Quasi in Cielo

Running ten miles in 78 minutes and five seconds is by no means the most impressive thing I managed to do today. It is not even the second-most impressive thing. Of course, first prize goes to my offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in spite of my utter unworthiness to do so. Second prize involves listening to a great deal of Italian at the invitation of some friends. The Ten Miler was nonetheless pretty sweet.

The most fun part of the race was exchanging early-Sunday-morning greetings with fellow Christians. There is a team that wears shirts which read “Jesus is Lord” on the back. I have seen these guys (and women) in many Washington road races. There are other teams with Scripture verses on the back of their shirts. Whenever I pass one of them, I always say, “Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ!” The response is always something like “Praise Him!” or “He’s the One,” or just a smile between heavy breaths.

Final Scene of La Traviata
Final Scene of La Traviata
I ran a decent race—a little faster than last year. But, after saying Mass, the most impressive thing I managed to do today was to stay awake through every minute of a matinee of La Traviata. The thing is, it was not hard.

I did NOT have beer bottles in my jacket pocket which were then shattered by the soprano arias (See the stupidest beer commercial of all time.) Nor did I put my pocket-radio earphones into my ears to listen to the football game. (I did not have to: My mom texted me every time somebody scored.)

I freely acknowledge that I am sorry that I missed the game. I heard the first quarter on the radio on the way up to the Kennedy Center, and things were not looking good. Sam was ticked-off. Sonny was despondent. Obviously, there was a great change for the better later in the game. Who could expect anything less these days?

But I am not that sorry I missed the victory. Let me tell you what ran through my mind from 2:00 to 5:00 o’clock this afternoon: How have I managed to live 38 years of my life without La Traviata?

Verdi Square in Manhattan
Verdi Square in Manhattan
I thought I had been having a pretty full life. Certainly, the Lord has been good to me. But something has been missing. What have I been thinking? I have been going about my business as if nothing were fundamentally wrong. I never realized the urgency of being acquainted with La Traviata. A friend even gave me the DVD of the Zefferelli movie version two or three years ago; I never bothered to watch it. Biggest mistake of my life.

One of my companions this afternoon classed the opera as one of Verdi’s “popular” works. I do not care. I do not care that it is the Walt Disney World of operas, the one opera everyone has heard of. It is absolutely wonderful, from beginning to end. I was completely enchanted.

I would love to give you a full digest of the entire moving spectacle. I would love to explore all the themes, which include: mortality, bourgeousie social pressure, hedonism, masculine honor, fatherhood, fortune-telling, and bull-fighting. But let me leave it at this for now: Violetta is one of the most beautiful characters I have ever encountered.

She is a bad person, a “woman who strayed” (which is what “la traviata” means). The true love of a pure, innocent man transforms her into a noble, self-sacrificing soul. Their love is stronger than social propriety. Everyone else underestimates what Alfredo and Violetta mean to each other. The jealousy which makes the story tragic is so intense and so violent because the love which inspires it has the power to redeem. The music expresses it all.

I used to wonder if Verdi really deserved to have his own square at 72nd and Broadway in New York City. Yes, he is a great musician. Otello is incredibly powerful, but we have Shakespeare primarily to thank for that. Verdi’s Requiem is admirably intense, but again he is capitalizing on something that preceded him. But now that I have seen La Traviata, I concede Verdi his square in New York. I concede him much more. He is a genius. La Traviata is a work of consummate solidarity with humanity.

Plus, the Skins beat the Eagles! The Skins are going to win the division! The Skins are going to the Super Bowl!

As Alfredo sings at the beginning of Act II, it’s as if we were in heaven.

2 thoughts on “Quasi in Cielo

  1. I will have to look up La Traviata…I wonder if they have any student discounts on tickets. As long as it isn’t Wagner (brrrrrrrrr) I might actually enjoy it!

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