My favorite part was when the girl died and then came back to life then died again then came back at the end.
I was amused by this response to the final scene in our school touring production of La Bohème, as a group of our artists, completing their round of 107 Northern California schools, came together to celebrate and read a stack of student letters. Perhaps not what our singers – or Puccini – intended. Even so, it is what the student saw and felt. It was not a guess at meaning or an attempt to explain. It was, for this student, precisely what it meant at that moment.
Another student writes,
I learned that some people are in poverty.
A simple statement of a truth perhaps never before so consciously recognized. Other responses:
Your voices were so strong, I thought the janitor would be cleaning up shards of window glass.
I learned that it takes guts to be on the stage.
I learned that when you’re going to act you have to feel it from within not just from the outside.
I learned that love has a price and nothing can pay except death.
And this report from one of our artists:
The audience was very young and squirmy. Still, at Mimi’s death, everyone froze. It was beautiful. But there was also the moment in Act One when, during a quiet passage, a young boy, probably five years old and quite fed up with the lovey-dovey few minutes of that part of the opera, moaned out, “Oh, ENOUGH already!”
This may not be what we hoped for, but an authentic response nonetheless.
Susan Sontag, the celebrated American writer and cultural doyenne, died ten years ago this month. Rereading her famous essay “Against Interpretation,” I’m reminded of our quest in arts education to recapture a certain innocence of response, to cultivate “transparence” in our engagement with works of art, which, as defined by Sontag, is “experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are.”