Last night my friend John Sherer and I went to see Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes at the Houston Grand Opera. It is - to simplify - the story of a fisherman accused of killing his apprentice - a story of 'stories' and guilt.
The work, a tragedy, is troubled by the same themes and allusions as works like Shakespeare's King Lear and Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. There, Man caught by, and raging out of, the elements of himself and nature; what catches in the audience's sense of humanity -- in Grimes as in Lear -- is the protagonist's harmartia - hubris. Then, there is Britten's strange and fascinating choice to include the figure of the author within the work, but as a silent almost inactive character referred to by the others as Dr.Crabbe. There is nothing, to me, quite as unsettling as seeing the maker within the made, particularly on stage or screen. That making figure, watching what unfolds, without interference (perhaps no longer with the ability to change or manipulate the outcomes) - there's something amazingly chilling about it. Perhaps this feeling comes from being aware that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are what makes us who we are. The idea of there, somewhere, being a maker, one who had molded, set the scene, stands back to watch -- part of what's so horrifying about this in Peter Grimes is that one eventually has the sense that the author, Dr.Crabbe, has lost the ability to manipulate the outcomes. He's created the characters, set the scene, and now, his characters have gone loose in the world. He seems to regret, to be helpless, even as he's received the gift artists hope for - don't they? - that their art will have a life of its own.
More to say about all these ideas (AND the fact that I saw one of my most dear sweet teachers, Lee Anne (insert married name, but used to be Pokego) last night for the first time in ten (!) years...) but the mundane mechanics of life call.
More about Peter Grimes and Benjamin Britten - here. And here, for more about the Houston Grand Opera.