Saturday, October 30, 2010

Toilets and Tenors

There are tenor jokes and there are toilet jokes, but on Friday I experienced both in one sitting ... and at first it wasn't that funny, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that our existence is really one cosmic joke anyway.

So here's the thing, Antoine, the very fine young tenor from the U.S. who lives in Chiangmai and has performed many times with the Bangkok Opera including in oratorio (Rossini, Haydn) and opera (Handel, Puccini, etc) was doing his first leading role for us — the role of King Satyavan in Holst's opera Savitri, slated to open in a few days' time.
Rehearsals are going fine, and Antoine has some concert engagements in India, so off he goes, fully expecting to come back in plenty of time for the dress rehearsals and so on.

While travelling between gigs in India on the infamous Indian railroad, he visits the toilet.  Now these railway lavatories are of the old-fashioned kind; they open up right onto the tracks beneath, providing extra fertilizer for the lush vegetation that abounds along the railway lines.  It is low tech, but eminently green.

Unfortunately, something a little less biodegradable got sucked into the toilet -- Antoine's passport.

Normally such an event would provoke a snigger, but nothing more.  After all, when an American citizen loses his passport, he merely shows up at the embassy and they immediately issue a temporary replacement.    Antoine did so at the first opportunity and he let me know that he'd be a bit delayed, but no big deal.

Then came the bombshell.  In its infinite wisdom, the government of India decided that, since Antoine's visa to India had been sucked into the Black Hole of Calcutta along with the passport, Antoine was therefore now, technically an illegal alien.

Now, in my native country (and I refer to both of them, Thailand as well as the United States) illegal aliens tend to be escorted to the nearest border and told to get the hell out of Dodge.  But India is another country as we all know, and Antoine was told that since he was not in India legally, he would now need a special exit visa to depart.  Such a visa could only be obtained after a complex bureaucratic process and the first possible time the process could even begin was in fact the day after the last scheduled performance of Savitri.

Now, despite the fact that everything was all prepared for the production to proceed, finding a tenor in Thailand to learn a leading role in a rare opera in three days was simply not going to happen.  So, maybe not the weirdest reason to postpone an opera in the history of opera, but surely the weirdest I've experienced personally.

In a panic, I managed to book the only day available in any viable venue for the rest of the year, December 13th at the Small Hall of the Thailand Cultural Center.

Well, Gustav Holst has waited almost a century to have this opera heard in Thailand, and I suppose another six weeks won't hurt.

But what this story teaches us — reminds us — is that all of us, no matter how full of noble aspirations, how puffed up with poetic conceits, how inspired by edifying and grand thoughts that encompass entire universes — all of us are still at the mercy of a few sordid bodily functions. Though our eyes may be fixed on the stars, yet our anal sphinctres remain firmly planted in the dust whence we came.  That is, ultimately, what the human condition is all about, and why art exists.

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