He is from another world.
A bodhisattva: a saintly being, who communes with divinity and who descends into this world to fill the hearts and minds of music lovers with the divine.
While the ordinary person’s mind is jammed with thoughts, positive, negative or indifferent, his mind buzzes with music. Not just any music: symphonies and operas in their entirety, from beginning to end.
But a composition does not merely live in his mind, rather, in his whole being. For example, as an opera plays in his mind, it takes over his emotions; he plays every instrument in virtual reality, mouths every word of every song in French, he croons as the bon vivant, heaves as the prima donna, is scornful and angry as the antagonist and he pirouettes with the ballet dancers.
He simultaneously experiences the collective performance and each part that makes it up, ensuring that each part plays its role optimally to fit in with the others to reflect and bring into being the authentic one collective whole.
How does the opera come to possess him?
Through direct soul-to-soul transmission from the late composer’s living spirit. He attracts the genie from the composer’s spirit to enter, fill full and guide him. Not just the entire opera, he also imbibes the composer’s creative inspiration behind it. He becomes the composer’s double as the opera incarnates in his soul, as if he himself was the composer and the bearer of the entire piece.
He lives the opera in his dreams and in his wake hours. The singers and the orchestra are there to manifest the opera for the audience as its genie emerges from him through every performance.
The orchestral pit is under the stage, reaching back deeply. The musicians inhabit this underground colosseum from which Orpheus of the underworld will conjure up the music of heaven and hell.
There is a cacophony of sounds as the musicians fine tune their instruments before the conductor arrives for the performance. Suddenly there is total silence and the conductor enters. He walks to the middle of the front of the orchestral pit, steps on his pedestal and turns towards the enthusiastically clapping audience. He has not even started, but he has already mesmerised them. They are full of anticipatory awe, already eating out of his hands, as it were.
Next he turns his back on the high voltage audience to electrify his orchestra. He slowly scans their faces, establishing eye contact with everyone. From now on they are all his auxiliaries, organically connected to him through breath and every sound that they will make. And he, like a spider weaving a perfect web from material released from within himself, begins to weave the web of the captivating opera from the ethereal magic emanating from his being, spellbinding everyone hearing it.
He eyeballs the musician standing behind a huge drum at the back of the orchestral pit, extending his left index finger in his direction and when his arm is fully stretched, he whips the air forcefully with his conductor’s baton in his right hand and the drummer obliges, starting off the opera with a big bang…
He uses no music.
He knows the whole opera by heart.
Every few seconds he closes his eyes to tune into his inner opera and feel its resonation through his whole being.
He then half opens his eyes to convey the mood to the members of his orchestra.
The expressions on his face, his whole body language and dance are all there to further communicate his inner experience to the orchestra and the singers so that they can embody and externalise the opera authentically to the audience. When they get it right he nods encouragingly; when they need to change course, he eyeballs the respective musicians.
He mimes the words to the singers, points a prompting finger at each when their turn is due, rotates his wrists fast when it is time for them to raise the tempo, shakes his hands to make them sing louder, brings his index finger across his lips and squeezes his closed eyes for pianissimo.
With a flip of the wrists and with all the fingertips clasping together in one point, he silences every voice and instrument simultaneously when the music needs to stop.
While his left hand sometimes reaches up to guide the singers, his right hand reaches down to conduct the orchestra to blow the proper wind behind the sails of the vocal cords on the stage.
He constantly monitors the orchestra so that they do not drown out the voices on the stage, while providing the richest possible backing to the singers.
He dances with the melodies, encouraging the entire orchestra to swing in unison with the singers, like a perfectly breaking surf carrying the surfers to the shore safely.
Basically, he is a rider standing on two horses: one foot on the orchestra and the other on the players on the stage. He holds the harness to each in his hands and he must get them move with grace and in tandem, to reach his destination.
Most of all, he is a ghostly conduit channelling the composer to produce an opera that reveals the composer’s spirit.
The old and suicidal Faust makes a deal with Mephisto that he will be young once again and live a life of unrestrained pleasure in return for surrendering his soul to the devil. But his amoral hedonism encouraged by Mephisto leads him to destroy the love of his life and his own peace of mind. He also kills his lover’s brother under Mephisto’s spell and against his own will. Eventually Mephisto succeeds in snuffing out the life of Faust’s innocent and long suffering lover, but he fails to gain possession of her soul.
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Rather, she ascends to the luminous heaven in the company of white angels. I can just about see the angels being released by the conductor’s genie hovering everywhere in the performance hall. And the heroine’s soul and the angels are joined in their ascent by everyone in the hall. We all rise to heaven, if only momentarily perhaps, but we know we have made it there and that we would never be the same again.
The supermundane reveals itself in our mundane reality. We are purged of our destructive emotions and feel filled full with faith, hope and love.
The conductor, Guillaume Tourniaire, triumphs.
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