«The Sting» and «The Entertainer»... Does it ring a bell? Well, of course.
1973 - «The Sting» (L’Arnaque) - a movie by George Roy Hill, starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
The soundtrack? «The Entertainer»! And Scott Joplin made his come back into the musical world even if most of us had never listened to ragtime before.
I was living in the States at the time and besides the ragtimes, I discovered «Treemonisha» by Scott Joplin. The first Afro-American opera ever written (1911). A big flop at the time. But thanks to «The Entertainment», it made a big come back.
«Treemonisha» is not made of ragtime tunes even if the field workers sing the well-known «Aunt Dinah has blown the horn». It’s a real opera, very romantic and beautiful with haunting arias.
It was first played in Paris in 2005... It sure took us a long time, I know. But I missed it then since my priorities were more hospital oriented.
This week, «Treemonisha» came back to Paris with an extremely good international cast. Guess who went (run?) to the Théâtre du Chatelet... so excited and happy...
Well, it was worth waiting (over 30 years). I enjoyed every minute of it.
Last week, I read Doctorow’s «The March», a book about the American Civil War but with a vision completely different from «Uncle Tom’s Cabin» and/or «Gone with the Wind». Very impressive book, about the horrors of war but also especially brilliant because of the way it deals with the complex slavery/freedom problem, as seen from both points of view, North and South. Doctorow brings up some very disturbing facts and ideas. Worth reading, really.
Actually, the whole opera is about education versus superstition and obscurantism, the same power of education which was to bring racial equality to America. Pretty visionary for something written at the beginning of the XXth century, less than 50 years after slavery ended in the States and quite a few years before Martin Luther King received the Peace Nobel Prize... and Barack Obama became the first African-American president of the United States (after 43 white ones) - let's not forget his impressive wife!
The libretto may sound a little bit naïve from time to time... But who can defend one single minute that some of Verdi’s libretti are not naïve, not to say silly!
Treemonisha herself, the adopted daughter of poor and humble people, got all her education from a white woman. (So much like Scott Joplin who learnt to play the piano at the house where his mother was a maid and was sent away to study music by the wealthy and white family she was working for.)
But the brilliant and again visionary idea behind Treemonisha’s moving story is that women could get an education, enough education to become leaders among women and men alike.
Oh boy, do I love this opera!
Back to the performance. It was fantastic! Great performers. Very beautiful ‘operatic’ voices. A great director. Very entertaining ballet over the ragtime part.
And two incredible things: first, a standing ovation.
(We tend to be very fussy about opera in Paris! Simply so highbrow French, I should say!)
And secondly: an incredible and hilarious ‘encore’ with the entire cast over «Aunt Dinah...»... (‘Encores’ are frowned upon in France, especially at the opera.) The singers danced along with the dancers or tried to... but the young and extremely good tenor managed a double somersault! Impressive, very impressive.
So much joy!
Such a good night... and then a ride back to Swee'Pea’s apartment, late at night through Paris.
So great to be alive!
*Good Luck, and Good Night*