Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pan Cogito Reflects On The Experience Of Listening To A Beautiful New Opera During A Driving Rainstorm, And Remembers A Poem Not Read In Many Years

I very much enjoyed, generally, finally listening yesterday evening to Philip Glass's 'Waiting for the Barbarians', based on Christopher Hampton's libretto from J.M Coetzee's novel, recorded live in (former East) Germany three years ago. I found that a good deal of the orchestration was unusual and beautiful, and the vocal setting quite often very poignant -- if not always masterful. (I felt that a little too often the vocal settings sat unhappily in the center of the largely arpeggiated orchestral texture. However, I also thought that Richard Salter, Elvira Soukop, and Eugene Perry sang beautifully; and that Dennis Russell Davies conducted the very fine German orchestra beautifully.)


Waiting For The Barbarians (1904)

-What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

-Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What's the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

-Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
He's even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.

-Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

-Why don't our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

-Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven't come.
And some of our men who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

Now what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1863 -1933).


Essay on Cavafy's World by Artemis Leontis.

Image Credits: Copyright © 2001 The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. With thanks.


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