A few days ago I went to a restaurant here in Atlanta for a Meetup group that gets together to listen to opera. The event is put on by a restaurant once a month, providing dinner and several opera singers, who perform between courses.
When I got home I was thinking about opera, and one thing led to another (you know how the internet leads from one thing to another?), and I ended up watching an interview with one of my favorite opera singers, the French soprano Natalie Dessay. I’ve transcribed a few lines here between Natalie and the interviewer:
“And what you wanted to do was get on stage?”
“Yes, since I was five.”
“Why do you think that was?”
“Because for me the stage is the space where everything is possible.”
Let’s move for a moment from that stage of dreams to a real stage, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. On Monday night I had the remarkable experience of watching a live stream (again, thank you, internet) of my second cousin, who just graduated high school, perform on that stage. She won a Presidential Scholars award, and that night about twenty or so winners were performing. I remember years ago watching Victoria as a little girl with my aunt teaching her to play piano, and there she was on the stage singing and playing at the Kennedy Center. You can look her up—Victoria Canal.
Among the kids on that stage were also several writers, and at the end of the show each person had a few seconds to say something about their artistic inspiration. One of the writers said something that struck me, which was, as best I remember it, “I see the world through glasses made of typewriter keys.” This strange metaphor I think means “I experience the world through writing.”
What do Natalie Dessay, and Victoria, and this unknown young writer have in common? They feel the need for artistic expression that says, “You have to do this.” I think I feel what they feel, the mystery that moves you as you walk around with a fire inside, looking for a place where you can pull a handful of that fire out and turn it into light.
Natalie Dessay began with a desire to be a dancer, felt she didn’t have the ability, switched to singing, found a love of acting, and discovered that she’s one of the best opera singers in the world. When she says that a stage is “the space where everything is possible” she means that everything we think of can somehow be represented on the stage, that it is possible in some ways to experience life through performance.
I was telling someone recently that I thought one of the purposes of art is to help us deal with the world and perhaps make some sense of it. Art can keep us from going crazy in the spooky chaos that is the real nature of our existence. With art—on or off a stage—everything is possible, including finding meaning for life and peace between us.
What I’m describing there is thinking about art from the point of view of the listener or viewer. As creators, however, what I feel when I write, what my cousin and the other young people on that stage feel, what Natalie Dessay feels when she performs, is that we experience the world from inside the art. When we create, we live in a different way, a way that takes the madness of the world and turns it into a song, a dance, a character in a book.
Everything is possible.