Metaphysical Reviews

Cendrillon: Love, Magic, Passion, and a Dream

Tonight, Suzanne and I saw the encore presentation of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD production of Cendrillon. Cendrillon is Jules Massenet’s take on the Cinderella story. A few years ago, the Met presented Rossini’s version, entitled La Cenerentola, which I have reviewed at http://celebrationcenter.org/la-cenerentola-forgiveness-and-the-power-of-our-word/

We all know the Cinderella story, the story of the girl who is treated as a maid by her mean stepmother, made to do all the dirty work, dreams of going to the ball, is granted her wish by her Fairy Godmother, meets the prince, falls in love, leaves her glass slipper behind, is found by the prince by means of the slipper, and becomes his princess. It’s one of the world’s favorite fairy tales.

Add to it Massenet’s gorgeous music, and you have a masterpiece – one that is making its debut at the Met, with a wonderful cast including Joyce DiDonato as Cendrillon, Alice Coote in the trouser role of Prince Charming, Stephanie Blythe as the stepmother, Laurent Naouri as the father Pandolphe, and Kathleen Kim having a wonderful romp as the Fairy Godmother.

There were a few points in this presentation of the familiar tale that struck me. Early on, as Cendrillon (Cinderella) is wishing she could go to the ball instead of having to stay home and do these chores, she observes that “there is joy in doing what must be done.” A profound observation. It is important to have a dream, but it is always worthwhile to see the joy in the mundane. See the joy in what is right in front of you.

All the women at the ball are wearing red, but her Fairy Godmother sends Cendrillon in a gorgeous white gown that suggests a wedding gown. She and the prince immediately fall in love. When the prince asks her name, she says she is the unknown. Is this perhaps a reminder to embrace the unknown lovingly?

Here is a dream Cendrillon was passionate about – the dream of going to the ball. And it happens, as do other dreams later in the story. I was struck by the idea of being passionate about your dream. It is the dream we follow with passion that manifests. She dreamed it and invested “fire” into it (to use Ernest Holmes’s term), and she got it. It takes that energy to make it happen.

We all know that when she leaves the ball, she loses the famous glass slipper (which was invested with the magical power to make her unrecognizable to her stepmother and stepsisters.) Whether it’s the Brothers Grimm, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Disney, Rossini, or Massenet, this is presented as an almost accidental effect of having to rush out of the ball because midnight is striking.

Is it? Or did she subconsciously leave it for the prince to find her? How else will he find a servant girl like Cendrillon? The job of the subconscious, after all, is to produce what you ask for. What Cendrillon really wants is the love of the prince. And while we are always choosing, not all the choices we make are conscious. Many are not. Instead of losing her glass slipper in a rush, could Cinderella have made a subconscious choice to leave it there as a means to produce what she dreamed of? I’ve often wondered about that.

But that dream seems so far off as to be unachievable. Cendrillon has to remind herself to let it go. By letting it go, letting go of the attachment to the outcome, she opens the way for her dream to come true.

There is a wonderful scene in the forest, where the Fairy Godmother has arranged for Cendrillon and Prince Charming to meet, but not to see each other. They profess their love, she tells him her name, and the Fairy Godmother tells them to love each other because time is brief and to believe in their dream.

When she returns to the house, Cendrillon’s father persuades her that it was just a dream, but she overhears her sisters talking about the prince having called princesses from far and wide to try on the glass slipper, and she knows that her dream was real. She calls her Fairy Godmother, who sends her again to the palace, again resplendent in her gorgeous white gown. Of course, the slipper fits her and she becomes a princess. Dream realized.

I loved Cendrillon. The music is gorgeous and the story conveys several important messages. If you ever get to see a production of this opera, put it on your list.

A Wrinkle in Time: Physics, Metaphysics, The Power of Love, The Power of Mind

Yesterday Suzanne and I went to see A Wrinkle in Time. What an interesting movie! It’s based on the “un-adaptable” 1962 novel by Madeleine L’Engle, which is still in print.

Meg Murray (Storm Reid) is a thirteen year old girl. Her parents (Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are brilliant physicists who have been working on an astrophysical theory of tesseracts, which can wrinkle time and let one travel across the Universe. While exploring this theory, Meg’s father disappeared. It has been four years, and Meg is going through all the normal problems of adolescence. But she wants to find her father.

Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), who is always referred to by both names for some reason, has made contact with a powerful entity known as Mrs. Whatsit, engagingly played by Reese Witherspoon. Mrs. Whatsit confirms that tesseracts are real and that Mr. Murry has “tessered” to a faraway part of the Universe. She suggests that Meg and Charles Wallace can find their father.

They encounter two others, the quote-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and the eldest of the group, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey.) The three reveal themselves to be astral beings and they lead Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend Calvin (who has a crush on Meg) to find Mr. Murry. Calvin has issues with his own father, so he looks forward to the adventure.

Along the way, they encounter such entities as the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis.) It is revealed that their father has been captured by the It, an “evil” entity that, as Mrs. Which explains, “represents all of the greed, anger, pride, selfishness, and low self-esteem in the world.” It lives on a planet named Camazotz, which is where Mr. Murry is being held.

Meg’s determination to find her dad lands them all on Camazotz, where the Mrs. depart, saying that the energy of the It is diminishing their light. Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are left to find Mr. Murry. But some strange things happen to Charles Wallace along the way, which only dissipate due to the persistent love of Meg.

Do they return to Earth? Is all well that ends well? How will the adventure end? For that, you’ll have to see the movie.

What do we learn from A Wrinkle in Time? Well, for one thing, the power of love to overcome the appearance of evil. Love is the most powerful force in the Universe.

For another thing, we learn of the power of a determined mind. The travelers land on Camazotz due to Meg’s insistence on finding her father. And it is by the force of her determination that they move through all the obstacles and traps the It sets up for them. A Wrinkle in Time reminds us of the power of mind.

And we have to walk through the storms, through the obstacles, through the traps, if we’re to achieve what we set out to achieve. We must be willing to face the It in our lives and keep on going. We must do what we are here to do, regardless of what it takes. We do so through the power of Love.

All in all, quite a fable for our times. We really enjoyed the movie and I would recommend seeing it. It’s an enjoyable couple of hours and you’ll feel quite inspired when you leave the theater.

The Greatest Showman: Finding the Dignity in Everything

Readers of this space know of my love for musicals. The Greatest Showman is a musical story of the life of P.T. Barnum. It is a different work from the Broadway musical Barnum. I enjoyed both.

The film tracks Barnum from his unsuccessful ventures through the establishment of his circus. (It makes you wish he were here to revive his circus, which is now out of business.) he recruits all kinds of freak acts and makes stars of them. This meets with great objections from the “proper” members of the community.

Eventually, Barnum brings jenny Lind to America and becomes the toast of society, but he has to return to his circus. Ultimately, he leaves his circus for his family.

By today’s standards, one might argue that Barnum is exploiting these performers, but they sing a song of gratitude to him for treating them like humans instead of freaks. It’s quite moving.

Can we treat people like people with dignity, no matter how they show up in our lives?

I recommend this movie.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi — Force, Power, Choice

A while ago, Suzanne and I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s an excellent movie. It continues the saga from where The Force Awakens left off.

You may recall that the prior film ended with Rey handing Luke his light saber. Now, she requests that he train her as a Jedi, but he refuses, saying it’s time for the Jedi to end. Eventually, Rey’s persistence wins the day.

While she is training, she is connected in mind to Kylo Ren. They begin talking. Rey goes to meet the Supreme Leader. Kylo Ren reports that “the Force is strong with that one.”

Eventually, Luke projects himself holographically and stops an attack on a rebel base (which has Leia and Rey, along with Poe Dameron, Fin, and others present.)

At one point in Rey’s training, Luke asks her what the Force is. She says it’s something the Jedi use. Luke corrects her and tells her that is everywhere, in and around all.

That may be the key point of The Last Jedi. The Force is in and around all, it can be used for good or evil, and we get to choose. Sounds very New Thougth to me.

We enjoyed this movie. If you can catch it, do. As Yoda would say, “Like it you will.”

The Star: Following Something Bigger

Recently we went to see The Star. It’s a retelling of the Nativity story from the perspective of the animals. While faithful to the mainstream Christian telling of the story, it puts a humorous spin on the familiar story, attempting to make it lighthearted.

The movie starts at “Nine months B.C.” It shows an angel telling Mary that she is to bear a child. The message is overheard by a mouse named Abby. Abby attempts to tell the other animals what is happening.

Meanwhile, we see a pair of mill donkeys, one younger and one older, chained to a wheel, going around and around, milling. The younger one dreams of escaping to join the Royal Caravan. He feels that is important, and he does not feel that milling is an important use of his life.

When he finally escapes, he injures an ankle. He is treated by a woman who names him Boaz (Bo, for short.) That woman is Mary. In spite of Mary’s kindness, Bo and his friend Dave (a dove) plan to escape to join the caravan. Eventually, the call goes out for the census and Mary and Joseph depart for Bethlehem, leaving Bo and Dave behind.

At the same time, the Three Wise Men arrive at Herod’s palace with their donkeys, Felix, Cyrus, and Deborah, who are keeping a running commentary on the proceedings. They talk of the new King. Herod determines to find the child and have him killed. He sends one of his most vicious warriors, accompanied by two bad dogs named Rufus and Thaddeus. They have interrogated Abby, so they know where to look. Bo and Dave realize that Mary and Joseph are in danger.

On their way to warn Mary and Joseph, they encounter a sheep named Ruth who is following the star that has been seen in the sky. The three of them set off to save Mary and Joseph and the child, and complications ensue. At one point, the group breaks up. Bo has a critical choice to make.

Eventually, they reconnect and they cross paths with the Wise Men. Mary and Joseph are saved, and their baby, Jesus, is born in a manger, surrounded by the Wise Men and their donkeys, Bo and Dave, Ruth and her flock, and others.

The movie gets there by way of some wonderfully silly humor. You’ll enjoy it.

There are a couple of takeaways for me from The Star. First, there are several situations in which characters find the need for forgiveness and receive it. It reminds us to forgive, even when we find it difficult.

But the more important takeaway, for me, is that sometimes when you’re pursuing what you think you’re supposed to do, what you think is important, something bigger takes hold of you. When it does, you need to follow it.

The characters in The Star are “following yonder star”, which is leading them to the birthplace of Jesus. What is your star? Are you willing to dedicate everything you have to following that, wherever it may lead you? That is your life’s work. That is what you’re here to do. Let it take hold of you and follow where it leads.

And enjoy the movie.

Leap! – The Power of a Dream

In the 1975 Broadway musical A Chorus Line, there is a scene where one of the main characters, Cassie, is asked by the director why she is still trying out for the chorus when she has been a lead. She answers tellingly, “I’m a dancer. A dancer dances.”

Felicie, the heroine of Leap!, would understand. Felicie is an orphan in an orphanage in Brittany in nineteenth-century France. The only thing she has left from her mother is a beautiful music box with a ballerina dancing in it. She dreams of escaping the orphanage and becoming a great ballerina. Her best friend Victor also dreams of escaping the orphanage. He dreams of becoming a great inventor.

Victor rigs up a device to fly away from the orphanage. It doesn’t quite work, but it lands them in a truck headed to Paris for a farmer’s market. Upon their arrival in Paris, Felicie and Victor get split up, but they stay in touch and help support each other as they navigate their way through their new situations and towards their dream.

Felicie wanders into the Academie National des Artes, where she sees a great ballerina before getting mistaken for a thief and nearly arrested. This simply reminds Felicie of her dream of becoming a great ballerina. Meanwhile, she winds up getting attached to a cleaning lady with a cane.

Victor, meanwhile, has hooked on as an apprentice to a sculptor who is making a large statue to send to America. While at work, he continues to work on his wings.

After a lot of training and hard work, Felicie winds up competing against the daughter of a very wealthy patron of the arts for the privilege of playing Clara in a production of The Nutcracker. Both are asked why they dance. Felicie answers that she dances because it’s what she has wanted to do since she was a little girl; it’s how she expresses herself. It’s her dream.

A confrontation ensues with the other girl’s mother, who is determined that her daughter must have the part. Eventually, she is saved by Victor’s flying wings. His invention is working!

Leap! is about dreams. It’s about pursuing your dream at all costs, about surrendering and working to achieve that which is yours to do, about following that which drives you, no matter what it takes to get there.

Leap! is sweet, fun, adventuresome, and inspiring. You will not regret spending a little while in this world. I highly recommend it. Inspire yourself and go see Leap!

Hidden Figures – The Power of Dreams and Visions

Suzanne and I saw Hidden Figures recently.  It’s an excellent, well-crafted movie about the successes of three black women in the pre-integration South.  The all-star cast includes Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, and Kirsten Dunst.

Hidden Figures is based on the true stories of Katherine Goble, later Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), Mary Jackson (Monae), and Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer), who were instrumental in the early days of the space program.  When we meet them, they are driving to work at NASA Langley in the Norfolk area, in 1961.  Their car breaks down and a policeman comes by.  Eventually, they manage to get the car fixed and be on their way.

The women are working in the “colored” computing section in the East building on the Langley campus.  They aspire to bigger and better.  Dorothy is the supervisor, but does not have a supervisor’s title or pay.  Instead, that title belongs to Vivian Mitchell, a white woman (Dunst.)

We watch the three women as they move in their careers.  Katherine is assigned to an all-white, all-male computing unit where she is supposed to be checking the other employees’ calculations.  Instead, she figures out the launch angles needed to ensure John Glenn (well played by Glen Powell) gets in orbit and home again – especially when his mission has to be cut short.  In a meeting, Glenn specifically requests her to check calculations.  Mary goes to court to get permission to take engineering classes at an all-white school.  Gloria borrows a FORTRAN book (“FORTRAN is the wave of the future”)  from the “white” section of the library and reads it, then winds up working on programming the new IBM mainframe computer.

At one point, Katherine’s boss, Al (Costner), tells her that there is more to going to the Moon than simply mathematics.  You have to believe it.  Later, he asks her why she disappears a couple of times a day for 40 minutes at a time.  Katherine explains that she has to run all the way across the campus back to the East building because that’s where the “colored” bathrooms are.  Al takes down the “white” and “colored” sign and announces that “we all pee the same color.”  At the sloe of the movie, after Katherine’s calculations bring Glenn safely home, Al asks her “Katherine, do you think we can get to the Moon?”  She responds, “We’re already there, Sir.”

The real Katherine Johnson is still alive, 98 years old.  Today, there is a Katherine G. Johnson Building at NASA Langley.

There are a number of metaphysical themes in this movie.  Obviously, unity is a theme in the removal of the color distinctions for the bathrooms.  (History records that the cafeteria remained segregated for a while.)  Reaching for a dream is central to New Thought.  As Oscar Hammerstein asked, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”

All three women are doing that.  Mary’s dream is to be an engineer.  Gloria learns programming and becomes essential to the operations there, with several people working under her, including her former supervisor.  And of course, Katherine’s exchange with Al at the very end of the movie shows the power of having a vision.  “We’re already there.”

This is a well done movie that won several Golden Globe awards and is nominated for a number of Oscars, including Best Picture.  It’s inspiring and well done.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  This is definitely a movie worth seeing.

L’Amour de Loin: Love, Desire, and Chasing the Ideal

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

Or what’s a heaven for? – Robert Browning

 

The best stories are not really about their characters, but about us.

Suzanne and I saw the opera L’Amour de Loin live from the Metropolitan Opera.  It’s a relatively new opera for just three characters : Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye; a Pilgrim; and the Countess of Tripoli, Clémence.    They were brilliantly sung by Eric Owens, Tamara  Mumford, and Susanna Phillips, respectively, along with the always-wonderful Metropolitan Opera Chorus.

The opera, composed in 2000 by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho with a libretto by Lebanese librettist Amin Maalouf, is based on a centuries-old legend.   It is set in Aquitaine in the 12th century.

Jaufré has been dreaming of a “faraway love” whom he has never met.  He writes poems and songs to her.  His friend The Pilgrim, a world traveler, hears his songs and poems..  The chorus tells him that no such woman exists, but The Pilgrim says that she just might.  However, she remains a dream, an ideal.  Although Jaufré can think of nothing else, he also believes he will never meet her.

The Pilgrim goes to Tripoli and tells Clémence that a prince-troubador sings of her, his “love from afar.”  At first, Clémence is offended, but then   she begins to dream of her “faraway lover.”  The Pilgrim, returning to Aquitaine, tells Jaufré that his “love from afar” knows about him.  Jaufré decides that he must meet her.

Jaufré and The Pilgrim set off on a journey across the sea to Tripoli to meet Clémence.  Jaufré is both excited and terrified of this meeting.  Although he is eager to meet Clémence, he is worried that he might be disappointed and the meeting could ruin his image of her.  This conflict and anguish makes Jaufré quite ill, and by the time he arrives in Tripoli, he is dying.

When the ship arrives, The Pilgrim tells Clémence that Jaufré has arrived, but he is near death, and that he wishes to see her.  Jaufré is carried in unconscious, but revives in Clémence’s presence.  They declare their love for each other, then Jaufré dies in Clémence’s arms.  This sends Clémence into a rage at Heaven, but she finally decides to go into a convent and prays to God, to her “faraway lover.”

This opera is about love.  It is about romantic love and Divine Love.  It is about passion that drives us to reach for the object of our desire, the thing we are passionate about, regardless of the consequences – even if we have to give our lives in the pursuit.  It is about following our star, no matter how far it takes us.  What is your star?  What is your “love from afar” that won’t let you not pursue it?  What is the thing you cannot not do?  And are you willing to let it drive you, no matter the cost?

The story of Jaufré and Clémence reminds us to listen and follow this, that no matter the cost, the pursuit is always worth it.  And sometimes, when you catch it, it really does live up to your vision of it.  There is no better time than now.

She Loves Me: Find the Good That is in Front of You

She loves me,

True, she doesn’t show it

How could she,

When she doesn’t know it?

– Jerry Bock, She Loves Me

 

Earlier this year, the Roundabout Theater Company mounted a wonderful revival of the 1963 musical She Loves Me, with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. It is one of many adaptations of the play Parfumerie by Hungarian playwright Miklós László. The play also gave rise to the 1940 movie The Shop Around the Corner (starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan0), the 1949 movie musical In the Good Old Summertime (starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson), and the 1997 movie You’ve Got Mail (starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.)  If you have seen any of those, you know the story.

Recently, Suzanne and I were fortunate enough to see a “captured live” performance of the Roundabout production, starring Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi, Jane Krakowski, Gavin Creel, Byron Jennings, and Tom McGowan.

The show mostly takes place at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest in 1934.  It centers around the clerks at Maraczek’s.  A woman named Amalia Balasch comes in looking for a job, but the shop’s assistant manager, Georg Nowack tells her there are no openings, but Amalia proceeds to sell a music box that Mr. Maraczek bet could not be sold.  She is hired.

As the months go by, Georg and Amalia work together, but develop a chilly animosity. Sipos, an older clerk, tells the young delivery boy that they bicker because they secretly like each other. Both are writing to unknown lovers through a Lonely Hearts Club.

Meanwhile, Ilona Ritter, a thirty-something clerk, has been having an affair with another clerk, the ladies’ man Stephen Kodaly.  But Kodaly’s relationship with Ilona turns sour.  Kodaly, it seems, has found a new lover.

On the very day that Georg tells Sipos that he will be meeting his “dear friend” that evening, Amalia tells Ilona that she will be meeting hers that night.  Mr. Maraczek gets on Georg for some minor things, and he winds up quitting the job.  (He winds up getting it back in light of some new information that is presented to Mr. Maraczek.)

You can probably guess what happens when Georg goes to meet his “Dear Friend”.  Let’s just say that both of them are quite shocked when they eventually discover each other’s identity, and it changes each character’s day-to-day interactions.

So other than a delightful musical, what does She Loves Me give us?  There is one simple point: Sometimes the good that we’re seeking is right in front of us and we can’t even see it.  It may be disguised, or we may not be looking at it correctly.  But in any case, we need to open our eyes, take a good look, and discard our preconceived notions about people and circumstances.  You never know the good that may await.

She Loves Me is a wonderful little gem of a show, and if a production comes your way, it’s definitely worth seeing.  You would likely enjoy it very much.

Florence Foster Jenkins – The Power of a Dream

There is an old joke: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, man, practice.” Apparently, not if you’re Florence Foster Jenkins.

Oscar Hammerstein wrote,
You’ve got to have a dream.
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

Florence Foster Jenkins, based on a true story, is the story of a woman with a dream, one that would seem ridiculous to most other people. She dreams of being a singer, even though she has a terrible voice.  What she does have is determination.

Jenkins (played by Meryl Streep) was a piano prodigy from Pennsylvania who married, contracted syphilis, inherited the family fortune, and became a patron of the arts. She was a major patron of the classical music scene in New York for many years. But she wanted to be a performer, and she simply did not have a good sense of either pitch or rhythm. (Her insistence on adding operatic coloratura to her performance only adds to the effect.)

Nonetheless, her second husband, St. Clair Bayfield, a failed actor, would try to book concerts for her. She performed an annual recital at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in the Grand Ballroom. In the movie, she is also seen performing occasionally at the Verdi Club, an arts club she helped found. But her dream is to perform at Carnegie Hall.

The movie takes place in 1944. With America at war, Florence is still in pursuit of that Carnegie Hall concert. Eventually, she and St. Clair book the place, partially by giving a thousand tickets away to members of the armed forces. Unfortunately, unlike her engagements at the Verdi Club or the Ritz-Carlton, tickets to her Carnegie Hall performance are available to the public. One ticket buyer is the New York Post critic Earl Wilson, who gives a devastating review in his column, “It Happened Last Night”. But Florence has had her performance at Carnegie Hall.

Although it’s played somewhat as comedy, Florence Foster Jenkins is the story of getting where you want to go by guts and a dream, even when nobody else believes in your dream and everyone says it can’t be done (and perhaps shouldn’t).

What dream are you deferring because people said you can’t do it or perhaps shouldn’t do it? What have you stepped back from trying because you “don’t have it”? Remember Florence and her concert at Carnegie Hall. If Florence Foster Jenkins can sing at Carnegie Hall, then what can you do that you’ve been dreaming about doing?

I think you’ll enjoy this movie, and watch for the power of determination and a dream.