When music lingers in your mind long after a performance is over, it’s telling you something. It may be a jazz riff or a blooming Puccini aria. It may be a little nothing, or it may lead to an important insight.
As an arts writer, I pay attention to these odd hauntings. A recent example: I can’t get some tunes from “Rent” out of my head.
Certain musical phrases and stage images from the Durango Arts Center production are staying in my mind. I’ve wondered why, especially since I had not been impressed with the 2005 movie version. I was uneasy about reviewing the show. But as a so-called theater critic, I have a professional obligation to attend performances with an open mind, keeping past experiences at bay.
If I have a bias against a piece, I owe it to the reader to say so. I also make an effort to separate a particular production from the work as originally conceived or composed. Often, I’ve given high marks to a production while not being a fan of the piece itself.
Well, I experienced a powerful connection to the DAC production, and I explained why in last Friday’s Herald. So what changed from a ho-hum movie response to a strong, positive review of the DAC production?
Emotional engagement. As the old saw goes: if a work of art doesn’t emotionally engage you, it has failed – or you’ve been asleep.
As a critic, my responsibility is to arrive with an open mind and pay attention. Analysis about what’s been seen and its effectiveness begins later. Audience reaction is a separate issue, appropriate for a report but not a critical review.
If an arts experience stays with me long after I’ve left the theater, concert hall or art gallery, something has made an emotional inroad. That something may have a deeper, personal meaning than first realized.
Since opening weekend, the music, themes, and performances in “Rent” have lingered. Two themes seem to have particular resonance: the power of creativity and the idea of living on borrowed time.
Yes, the movie contained those themes, but the film left me cold. In contrast, the live production seemed so immediate and the cast so committed that this “Rent” ignited both imagination and memory. It reaffirmed my belief in human aspiration. It underscored the enormous leap of faith every creative person takes, despite the odds: cultural coldness, disease and death. This production re-enforced my belief in resilience in the face of our limited time on Earth and ultimately on the impermanent nature of life itself.
Every Sibelius symphony has a similar effect. Jean Valjean’s anthem, “Who am I?” from “Les Misérables,” replays in my mind for the same reason. Rembrandt’s portraits, Goya’s “Proverbs,” Turner’s landscapes, Ibsen’s plays, Oliphant’s political cartoons, and other works of art reaffirm my core beliefs – among them, the power of human creativity and resilience.
So, there, I’ve revealed my humanistic biases. See you in the theater, the and the concert and recital halls.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, art historian and arts journalist.