Renée Fleming @ Carnegie Hall

I'm leading off with this Korngold here, even though it was the second encore last night and as such not the reason Carnegie Hall was selling tickets. I feel like I've been pretty upfront about my inability to "decode" music into a universally accepted vocabulary of common "words," which lack the flexibility and (vomit) "soul" to capture things like the listener's subtle shifts in posture and facial expression, or rise and fall in body temperature while a live performance is happening. Do I just say "She sang really loud and pretty"? What does that tell you? "She hit a high C"? I, a non-musically inclined person, don't even know what that means. Where's the language that tells what was happening onstage while "my hands trembled like this through all of the 'Sterbelied'" or "here's the deep internal sigh I sighed when she sang the line 'My belief in happiness,' which ends 'Was du mir bist'"? And the language that not only tells but actually wraps you into it along with me in a sort of symbiotic communal understanding? 

I suppose I could wear a heart rate monitor or strap on one of those EKG machines, but then I'd have to hire a Sherpa to lug it all the way to the top of Carnegie Hall, and just think what a liability that would be, future-scandal-wise, should I ever decide to pursue public office. And the taxes! What a headache. And what would it tell you anyway? Not the story of what's actually going on inside my ears or whatever mechanism it is that converts sensation to emotion while all these sounds are threading through my system.

If I were five years old I'd draw you a picture of the whole program in muted but heartfelt shades of Crayon—the Silver Swirls box, probably, all Burnished Brown, Cerulean Frost, and Wintergreen Dream—and there would be clouds and sparrows and a couple of dragons, both because dragons are cool and inscrutable and because the idea of Imperfect, Obsessive, or even Divine Love doesn't really enter into a five-year-old's creative processing, I don't think. (From Mehldau/Rilke's Songs from the Book of Hours: Love Poems to God:"Extinguish my eyes, I'll go on seeing you. Seal my ears, I'll go on hearing you. And without feet I can make my way to you, without a mouth I can swear your name.") But you have to compress all that emotion down into something, and it might as well be dragons. Tiny thought bubbles filled with hearts and words like "Awesome!" and "WHOA!!" would be looping out around these dragons' heads, and in one corner of the frame there'd be an ocean liner listing on a far horizon, per Zemlinsky's Fünf Lieder cycle, which depicts the progression of a doomed adulterous affair with Titanic-in-the-underworld overtones ("Lay your hand upon my eyes, that my blood may darken like nights upon the sea: from a distant vessel Death attends"). Punctuated by thunderbolts, and somewhere a unicorn. In an opposite corner would be the requisite sunrise, with a rainbow peeking o'er it, since the night ended sublimely, after all, with "Morgen."

Anyway, I really feel like music is one area where words fail us—me—or that the sixth sense needed to convey the effect was bred out of the species somewhere down the line. I can say "thrilling" to you, but how do you weigh "thrilling"? I can describe A Thing and say it's like this Other Thing, but in order for that to resonate at all I have to assume you share my frame of reference and my private understanding of both of those Two Things. And there's just no way for that to compute with any degree of accuracy. So I trust words about music maybe 70% when they're coming from a musically educated person, and I drop that to about 3% for my own, and even that 3% would consist mostly of random keyboard clacking and paragraph after paragraph of exclamation points, which aren't even words but symbols. Instead all I can do is admit that this specific form of interpretation is a skill I don't have, while continuing to stage dumbshows like these that tell you nothing more than how very much I love hearing Renée Fleming sing.