Art and soul – do they matter?


On Sunday I discovered that I am a member of a tiny minority. I belong to a group of around three million people world- wide who watch the live performances of opera filmed from the New York Metropolitan Opera House! And when I watched film of the Met audience, I decided that I must also belong to an even more select group, a blogger who watches opera.  I don’t know what a blogger actually looks like, but to my mind, this collection of elegant, groomed rich people didn’t look like bloggers- would they have the time to sit over a computer? Not did my home audience of mostly elderly people look like bloggers either!

It was a Mozart opera, ‘La Clemenza di Tito‘. Then on Tuesday I spent ages poring over Clanmother’s beautiful blog with Renoir’s pictures. On Wednesday I went back to see the opera again, unable to resist it, and on Friday I rushed in to see the film ‘Anna Karenina’  before it went off. A week you could say, of culture and art. The theme of the opera was goodness and mercy, though it took even worse liberties with history than Hollywood does. This didn’t matter.

The music was sublime, the costumes and scenery a feast for the eyes, and the voices were among the best in the world. Two of the parts were what are known in opera as trouser roles – that is they were written for women’s voices, but the characters were men. Anyone who saw singer Susan Graham all in white as the long legged elegant Rosenkavalier will know just how ravishing women dressed up as men are, and these two were delectable.

Opera singers are born, not made, but to achieve the mastery needed to sing opera well takes years of voice training, learning music theory and music history, if possible mastering an instrument, learning French, German and Italian since most operas are written in these languages, learning drama, acting skills, and sometimes ballet, and for men, sword fighting  skills. For the rest of their lives, opera singers have to continue to practise and train their voices to sing different sorts of opera. Mozart’s music is the most testing and the finest training according to singers. And many have to work at day jobs to make a living.

This opera was written in the last three months of Mozart’s life, when he was travelling around the music capitals of Europe looking for a post to support his family in 1791. It appeared in the first week in September; a week later he produced another great opera,’ The Magic Flute‘, and then some cantatas, a clarinet concerto, a piano concerto, and finally his great Requiem before dying on the 6 December. What inspired creativity in the last three months of his life, and typical of his lifelong astonishing output, having begun composing when he was five .

The pictures of Renoir throb with joie de vivre and utter beauty. Each exquisite picture, whether flowers, dancers, portraits or landscape are radiant with life and light. To see one is exciting, to see a collection of them is breath-taking … In spite of acute arthritis in his hands, Renoir went on painting into extreme old age, and the joyousness and celebration of beauty are always there.

‘Anna Karenina’ is considered to be one of the greatest novels in western literature… though some beg to differ, myself among them. At the end of this sumptuous production, with jewels and dresses to die for, I felt a distaste at having watched a collection of worldly people with no self awareness make a hash of their lives! This novel, along with ‘War and Peace’ are Tolstoy’s masterpieces, for he spent most of his later adult life trying unsuccessfully to reform his errant ways, and then trying to reform the world, gaining a controversial reputation as a reformer. He preached peace and inspired both Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

So in one week I had had a feast of some of the world’s great artists. Beverley Sills, the American soprano once said that: “arts are the signature of civilisation”, and it worries me sometimes that this signature is getting more and more illegible. In a film on Beethoven a couple of years ago, I heard a magnificent German bass agonising over what he called the dumbing down of our culture – referring amongst other things to cheap music, Facebook communication,  and the shallow snippets of sensational news on radio and TV – he was comparing them with the profundity of Beethoven .

I would also have added to his list new Bible translations which are no longer literature, but banal religious tracts, and the sort of art that wins prizes these days – someone’s unmade bed adorned with stubbed out fag-ends and grubby sheets, or a skull covered in diamonds. Both the perpetrators of these masterpieces are now rich and famous on the strength of them…

Taoist philosophy suggests that art awakens a response in the mind and soul and it is important that it should evoke the higher not the lower nature. And that is what the art that I revelled in this week did for me. It lifted me above the daily round and common task, the disappointments and frustrations of a rather difficult week, and reminded me of actress Stella Adler’s words: ‘Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.’ Yes, I think art matters…


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Frangipane is the delicious almond base in many fruit tarts. It’s easy as…you just need four oz of butter and four oz of sugar, two eggs, one oz flour, 5 oz ground almonds, one teasp vanilla essence, and half a teasp of almond essence. Just beat them all together, and spread on top of the pastry. Then press down in it the fruit of your choice. This is only one of many recipes, some use more eggs, others use more almonds. I keep my ground almonds in the deep freeze so that they are fresh and don’t go rancid.


Food for Thought

Oh great Creator, grant us one more hour to perform our art and perfect our lives.     Jim Morrison 194 – 1971  Poet and songwriter who died unexpectedly in Paris at 27



Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, culture, films, great days, life/style, literature, music, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

57 responses to “Art and soul – do they matter?

  1. Amy

    A wonderful culture and art week you had! The opera singers have to practice voice, learn languages, acting, know the drama…. and excel. Incredible.


  2. Phew! Are you my twin? Will the pendulum swing back? Does it still hold promise – that golden stem of relief and reassurance?

    Our local theatre brings in the live productions from the Met via satellite. The timing is such that these performances match the best portion of our Saturdays. One of my friends who knows every opera inside out kindly lets me know when I MUST attend.

    As a kid in rural Western Canada, our mother-the-teacher used to reserve Saturday mornings for her Metropolitan Opera – over the radio. We would groan and fuss – while we did our chores. She’d say, “When the opera is over and you’ve finished your chores, we’ll huddle and see what you think the story was about.” We’d groan even louder.

    However, even today I can hum/sing along with certain arias – still not knowing the story. Attending our “Met Performances” solves many mysteries and familiar pieces produce visions of my mother’s ecstatic face.

    If only we could have had these performances while mother was still alive…


    • What lovely memories Amy… I’m a glutton for those performances and often go twice to see the ones I love… but I did walk out of Hamlet at half-time, and was relieved to read a review which began – “to go or not to go – we went!”


  3. Valerie, to live in a world of so much culture and art is to die for! Not literally, but you know what I mean. There is so much I have missed in my life but yet so much I have to be thankful for. Never had the opportunity to see the opera but have been told once you do you either walk away loving it or never wanting to hear another. I think I would be one of those loving it!


  4. Alice

    Frangipane yum. I sat transfixed in a opera awhile back–magical!


  5. Oh, wow! I love that last quote… I wonder if that’s why our government’s don’t fund the arts well these days. Have we forgotten our soul?


  6. marcelino guerrero

    “it worries me sometimes that this signature is getting more and more illegible”

    A second this notion. And yes, I watch them on our Public Broadcast station. I have no clue what is being beautifully said, but, nevertheless it moves me. Others in the household refer to this as Dad watching “old stuff”. 😦


    • Thank you!… If you can ever get to one of the cinemas where they show the Met operas, they have the words of the songs across the screen, so you know what’s going on… but I know what you mean, even when I didn’t know, it was still beautiful….


  7. Beautiful post Valerie and yes, art matters. I cannot imagine a world without art, music and literature


  8. What a wonderful post, Valerie. I have to admit I am not a culture vulture, though most of my friends are. And I have always struggled a bit to see what it is that they find so awe inspiring. However, I do think the lack lies in me and not in the art and I have a feeling that like most things worth doing, a bit of effort on my part is what is missing.

    Maybe I’ll start with the film of “Anna Karenina” rather than an opera and break myself in gently. But I will make a start. Life is too short to miss out on all those glories you describe so eloquently.


    • Lovely to hear from you Corinne.- actually I think it’s like everything else, you have to get your eye or your ear in… so the first time you hear a piece of music it often doesn’t move you… when you hear it again, you start to hear the beauty, and every time after that, it becomes more beautiful…

      Even when one tastes wine for the first time one has to acquire a palate for it… so it is with the beauties of literature, art, music or any other form of creativity…
      You’re so right to describe them as glories…


  9. Alas, Valerie, in this world where bling is king and the only opinions that really matter are those of accountants, charlatans like Hurst with his absurd diamond skulls are what we have to look forward to. We need a second renaissance in which art, literature and music provoke thoughts and acts of beauty instead of perpetuating acquisitve consumerism a la Hurst and Emin.

    But as long as good folk such as yourself provide an audience the creators and performers of fine art will hopefully continue to enthrall and inspire!


    • So good to hear from you Finn… you’re so right… sometimes I feel like that poem by. – Beryl Bainbridge, was it ? – ” Not waving but drowning”
      in the tide of raucous music, vulgar fashion, crude TV and heartless over-indulgence…


  10. You and I are part of that group, the one watching the live Met performances. I was so lucky when I was young, to see Opera, Ballet, theater and concerts first in Europe’s great houses and then in the US. This experience bred into me a great and lifelong love affair. Add to this the wandering of all the great museums and cities, I was certainly defined by my childhood in more ways than one.

    This was as always Valerie, a wonderful post and a reminder how badly we are failing our future generations.


    • Dear Valentine, thank you again for your wonderful encouragement and appreciation… how lovely to know that when I’m watching the latest Met opera, you will be, or will have done too…
      I’m so glad that you have had the consolations of art along with all the dramas of your challenging life… sometimes it’s what keeps us going, isn’t it… that escape from the mundane and the painful into another world.
      Would love to know more of your wanderings in great cities and museums!


  11. What a wonderful week you had. I passed by Lincoln center a few weeks back and chastised myself for having such a place so close, yet unattended for years by me. When in NYC I spend hours in museums, but neglect the live art. This is a reminder to me to be a bit less lazy. 🙂


  12. I agree, Valerie: art is the shortest path to remembrance of our true nature. When immersed in Art, that connection with Soul is like an electrical charge: immediate and powerful. xoxoM


    • What a wonderful comment, Margarita, worth framing! ” Art is the shortest path to a remembrance of our true nature” … wonderful. I read all these beautiful comments to my husband to show him what a wonderful blogging world I live in..XXX


  13. YES! Oh, YES! It does matter…after all it is the music of our souls!



  14. What a lovely week you had! I love opera- listening to it and hearing it live, but, for some reason, I can never appreciate it as much when watching it on television. Listening to it, I can imagine the scenes in my head and seeing it live, well, I’m totally immersed in it, but on television it feels like a halfway point and leaves me feeling a bit frustrated. But your post has made me want to give it another go! One’s experiences and reactions change as we get older so you never know!


  15. I love how I always learn stuff when I come here! You brought me a lovely memory too. The Summer before my Dad went blind we took him on a trip to Venice, a city he loved. While we were there we went to Verona to see Verdi’s Nabucco. I was completely ‘blown away’ as they say. When everyone lit candles as the sky darkened and the Song of the Hebrew Slaves was sung, I found myself quietly weeping.
    Thank you so much for this sweet memory. We also grew up hearing Dad sing all sorts of songs from the operas and were so glad to be able to do that trip with him
    . 🙂


  16. Oh Sally, what a beautiful memory and comment. I read all these beautiful and thoughtful comments to my husband, to show him what a wonderful blogging community we have… we were both transfixed by the thought of listening to the Song of the Hebrew Slaves by candlelight…in Verona… I too would have been weeping with the beauty of it. Lovely to hear from you..


  17. I’m so pleased my memory touched you both. I came back to see if you had replied as WordPress no longer give us notification of a reply to a comment which is such a shame. As you have just commented- we have a beautiful blogging community here but it risks being spoiled if we don’t know when somone has continued the conversation.
    All the best to both of you 🙂


    • Oh Sally, I’m surprised you’re not getting notifications… I am still am… do you think something might have slipped off your end?
      You’re so right, it stops the conversation if you’re not getting a .hope you can get it fixed – warm wishes


  18. Michele Seminara

    I have, of late, developed a great love for both poetry and opera! Two arts I have previously enjoyed but never before been so passionate about. I wonder if age is a factor?


    • I wonder… thought I’ve always been a poetry nutter.. opera – now I can afford it thanks to the Met!
      But however it comes, that love of them and other arts is so precious, isn’t it….


  19. ‘I adore art… when I am alone with my notes, my heart pounds and the tears stream from my eyes, and my emotion and my joys are too much to bear.”
    Giuseppe Verdi

    Opera is not for everyone, but for those who truly appreciate the music I believe they feel close to heaven. And that is a good thing.


    • Hello Rebecca – when I began to read Verdi’s quote, I thought for a moment you were talking about yourself!!!

      Yes, opera is a niche passion… and I wouldn’t have been able to discover it but for the affordable Met series for the last few years…
      But there are so many other paths to heaven – as you would know!


  20. Art does that for me as well, Valerie. The lifting above the ordinary describes it will. All creative human endeavors–art, music, writing, all performances, including children’s plays and recitals–remind me of the differences made in the lives of the creators. Thanks for a lovely post.


  21. Art is Soul made manifest!


  22. Must say I’m feeling very Soul-full after reading all these wonderful comments from art lovers….! So wonderful to know that our blogging community is so connected to all the things that art and soul are….


  23. I am not usually a great fan of opera but I think Britain’s Got Talent has made it more likeable to a lot more people. Including me.


  24. Dear Valerie,

    The answer is yes.

    Art and soul matter more that many more mundane yet seemingly necessary things in life. Your writing has both.

    “The Tiger in the night is more important than the villagers cowering behind their walls.” (D.T. Rhysing via me.)

    That quote describes perfectly how I feel about the necessity of art and the importance of soul. I’d rather go without food for a day than be cut off from art.

    Your post was, as ever, well written and to the point and I enjoyed it from start to finish.




    • Hello Doug, Thank you for your insightful comments as usual… Love the quote about the Tiger… at many levels… It’s so good that so many of us feel the same, And I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Valerie


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