It’s Sunday in a very gray and misty Cardiff. I am halfway through the rehearsal period here for my second production of Salome. It is such a joy to be back on the horse singing this incredible music. It is difficult to find a more perfect score, although going to last night’s performance of Marriage of Figaro one finds a great contender… Good thing there is no need to choose. I marvel at these wonderful Mozart singers. Such grace and prettiness. And humor!
I am again blessed with a wonderful group of people with whom to work. Our conductor, Lothar Koenigs, actually clapped his hands in delight at the end of our first musical rehearsal. Gleeful, to say the least. What a joy it is to work with someone who stays within a close few steps of the wonder and amazement of the alchemy that can happen between music and a specific combination of people. One really has to be open to it though, lest it flash by under the scrutiny of a hard heart, and spend the rest of the production hiding in the shadows of each person’s good intentions and self-criticism. One must coax and charm such loveliness into the light of day.
Our director, Andre Engel, is a marvel of theatrical integrity. Steeped in the traditions of classical theater and proper technical stage craft, he continuously draws us back to balance and justified action, understanding the deeper human prerogatives of each character, and always, always peeling off the layers to the core conflict or objective.
It is amazing to me that a production twenty years old maintains such a high level of relevancy and interest. And I am even more amazed to consider the wonderful women who precede me in this role, on this set… Stephanie Sundine, Helen Fields (with whom I share this run), and of course, Catherine Malfitano, who has been my teacher for the past few years.
Stephanie’s daughter Francesca was the assistant stage manager in Milwaukee during my first Salome. She was seven years old when her mom did the initial run of this production. That’s just too cool!
Much has happened since I last wrote in September. The run of Death and the Maiden was by far the most taxing period of my career so far. Playing Paulina Salas took its toll. When I met Ariel Dorfman during our final week of rehearsals, he mentioned that no Paulina had ever made it to opening night without getting sick, and he marveled at my strength. Hm… I guess I am just a late bloomer in everything, because I just haven’t been myself since… I made it through the run. And actually, the show grew and became quite organic and wonderful by the time we got to run it on our own terms for a while. But coming out of it I felt like I had been hit by a freight train ~ helplessly grasping into thin air, trying to hold on to something solid to drag myself up on my feet again.
It was a remarkable experience to live with this woman in my heart. Because that is inevitably where she took up her residency. There and in my spine. It is really something to try to stand up straight when every bone in your body feels broken. It is painful to speak for the right to exist ~ not just physically exist, but emotionally, spiritually, and most of all, exist without fighting… That’s what I felt most about Paulina. That her story is about the right to exist with dignity, without justification or the destruction of self in the process. To love oneself enough to stand it. And perhaps to be loved enough to do so with joy.
I make this point again, that I would never make it through these challenging jobs were it not for the amazing people upon whose shoulders, or under whose wings, I get to do my work.
In this case it was our conductor, Thomas SÃ¸ndergaard, the amazing cast, particularly Fredrik Zetterström, and the skilled, good hearted and generous quartet of guys who played out Paulina’s inner world in mime, dance and violent physicality that carried me through. It is interesting how I found that having the quartet play out Paulina’s feelings came as a relief. She spends much of her time trying desperately to control her anger and damage, or being told to do so, and actually having them act out her most seriously creepy urges was liberating. Nothing that would make sense in reality, but as an emotional construct it was remarkable.
Also, had it not been for an eleventh hour visit from our dear librettist, Ariel Dorfman, the emotional connective tissue of this piece could have been lost on us all. He came to us and spoke so candidly about the meaning of these characters to HIM ~ personally. And he connected all of us to each other and to the reality this play depicts. It was with great relief in many ways that most of the chorus and myself sat in tears and listened. It made our journey through this piece worth it. And in fact, it is the stuff that makes an artistic life worth it.
Having read Ariel’s auto-biography, “Heading South, Looking North”, it was with amazement, admiration and respect I spent a few hours in the presence of him and his wife Angelica. I had built up a picture of this woman, who stood on a street outside the Argentine embassy during Ariel’s exile there, day after day for months, with her toddler by the hand, hoping that he might catch a glimpse of them just to know they were alive.
I just couldn’t put together the picture in my head of the woman of whom he spoke so candidly in his book with the young and gorgeous woman I met. The woman I met had no resentment or tiredness in her eyes, and no walls around her. She was one of the most beautiful and generous people I’ve met. It is no accident of course that someone like Ariel is married to someone like Angelica. They clearly deserve each other, and thank God they had each other given the life that they have continuously taken on living so fully. One can’t help but wonder what makes certain people MORE full of life through their adversity, and others fall broken and bitter over it.
It was an inspiration. I would not wish their experiences on anyone. But I am grateful that their insights and attitudes are available to the rest of us to learn from. It is people like them who move things forward. No matter how bad things seem sometimes. It is possible to choose a softer and more generous heart, while still standing for your principles.
In my comparatively insignificant and gentle circumstances, I stand inspired and grateful.