Taking the ‘Art’ out of ‘Cathartic’

2 April, 2006 at 3:12 pm (doric)

Driving home from work yesterday I was listening to All Things Considered, and I stumbled upon a story that was steering wheel-poundingly fearsome and hilarious simultaneously. A man named Hamilton Banks has, after years and years of being a lifelong opera fan, finally combined his love of music with his adoration of the principles of the Power of Positive Thinking as espoused by Norman Vincent Peale, to found an opera company where he will systematically edit all the great tragedies so that they have uplifting endings.

Anna Chromy's IL COMMENDATORE.  See, that doesn't inspire positive thoughts...That’s right, at the end of Don Giovanni, the fear of Hell and its torments will so move Don Giovanni that he will be born again in the love of Christ and marry the girl. So as not to spoil the opera, new lyrics will be written to some of Mozart’s cheerier music featured in the earlier portions of the work, including the “Peasants’ Wedding Song”.

NPR contributor Alice Furlaud is very fair with Mr. Banks and doesn’t mock his enterprise. She lays it out documentary style, and does an admirable job of not emphasizing the point that anyone in his right mind would listen to such a proposal and call him a delusional fool. She does eventually quote Ms. Linda Cabot Black of the Boston Lyric Opera Company who voices quite clearly what most of the listening audience was hopefully thinking: “Oh, yes, Hamilton Banks did approach Boston Lyric Opera and offered us a fortune to change the endings. Of course we turned him down, thought it was a silly idea. …How on Earth would Puccini and Wagner and the other great composers, what would they think about changing the endings? It would be just ludicrous.”

Mr. Banks, on the other hand, is quite convinced of the purity of his exercise. He honestly cannot conceive of an audience’s desire for catharsis, leading him to say in one breath that he loves the operas of the great masters, and then in the next that maybe “if the wonderful anti-depressant drugs we have today had been available, they’d never have written those depressing endings and maybe they’d never written the whole opera.” Great! That’s what the power of positive thinking can do! Deprive the world of Great Art! Well done, Mr. Banks for showing us the way: we need to medicate all artists out of existence!

However, if one were less inclined to be outraged and want to use the Power of Positive Thinking to find something worthwhile in this ridiculous news story, it is a marvelous example of the classic syndrome of Life Imitating Satire. Some of you may recall the episode of Jon Lovitz’s The Critic where a TV executive uses digital editing to create new happy endings for films like Casablanca. That was done as a joke, as the sort of idea of which only the most boneheaded and inartistic individual could conceive. But now we know that such an individual isn’t just the fanciful, fictional comedic extreme of someone’s imagination! America strikes again and proves that not only can someone this outrageous be real, but he can also be incredibly successful! USA! USA! Providing the world with self-deluded, charismatic, ignorant bizarro-humans for over two hundred years!

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