Laughter and Opera

MladakhudoleyDoubtless you have heard that the current Dallas Opera production of Salomé was laughed at last Friday. By coincidence, just after reading The Dallas Morning News article on Salomé, I heard Radiolab's latest show entirely devoted to laughter. Particularly interesting were the segments on Dr. Jaak Panksepp's research on tickling rats and Dr. Robert Provine's work on chimp laughter. Among the theories on why humans laugh presented were to signal safety or play.

I wonder exactly what the audience was laughing at in Salomé, if it was simply the absurdity of the staging or something else. Mlada Khudoley (pictured) certainly does not look inappropriate as the dancing seductress.

Listening to Radiolab reminded me that they aired an hour-long special about opera earlier this year. Entitled "The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania," the program discusses the Ring Cycle at the Met in 2004. The show starts with the statement "Opera people are all nuts," which seems quite apt indeed. Jad Abumrad interviews Alex Ross, Speight Jenkins, Tony Kushner, Jane Eaglen and others in this amusing piece about Wagner's epic work.

Dallas Opera's Salomé | The Dallas Morning News Review | Pegasus News Review | Laughter Episode on Radiolab | The Ring and I on Radiolab

Musicophilia Review

* Notes *
As an adolescent my two boyhood heroes were most certainly
Václav Havel and Oliver Sacks. It was around that time that I tried, in vain, to find a copy of Zahradní slavnost at my public library. It is just as well, I did not understand the play when I read it as an undergraduate. The library did, however, have Oliver Sacks' Awakenings, which I probably did not understand that well either, but made quite an impression on my young mind.

Sacks' latest book, entitled Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, is in the same engaging style as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (which, incidentally, was made into an opera) and An Anthropologist on Mars. Like the previous books, Musicophilia goes through several case studies of neurological conditions that involve music, including musical hallucinations, synesthesia and music, and musician's dystonia. However, the scope of this new book is broader, not only discussing pathologies, their disadvantages and surprising advantages, but also covers music and the human brain generally.

While organized into four major parts, at times I felt Sacks jumped around a bit. For example, Chapter 16 deals with aphasia and music therapy, but Chapter 17 abruptly goes into a short case study on dyskinesia. Nonetheless, on the whole, the book is both entertaining and instructive. I am particularly fond of the chapter on musical savants.

* Tattling *
I was disappointed the index did not include "opera," so for your amusement and consideration, I made my own entry:

     Freud and Mozart operas, 292

     Challenger, Melanie 281-282

     musical imagery involving, 241-242

     Das Rheingold, 282-283
     Dido and Aeneas, 284, 301
     Jenufa, 34-35
     La Traviata, 11, 79
     Orpheus in the Underworld, 241
     Tannhäuser, 75
     Turandot, 326
     William Tell, 103

     savantism involving, 151-152, 239

     Jenkins, Florence Foster, 100
     Tucker, Richard, 320
     Lenhoff, Gloria, 325-327

Also, I noted that the index had an entry for "Japanese speakers, see tonal languages," but the pages referred to had information on Chinese and Vietnamese speakers and absolute pitch.