My family and I just returned from a two-and-a-half-week vacation traveling in Portugal, Morocco, and Spain, hence the break between OperaGene blog posts. We learned a lot of history, experienced different cultures, ate some great food, viewed some world-class art, and heard some thrilling music. Two experiences achieved the “transcendent” level for me. My use of the word transcendent means that the sum of the elements contributing to the experience provided a deeply satisfying, uplifting experience greater than the sum of the parts. For me, these experiences are very personal and spiritual in nature. We attended a traditional Flamenco Dance demonstration, which was excellent, but for me was not transcendent. Sometimes opera rises to this level for me, but it was not opera this time, though we attended the opera in Barcelona.
The first case occurred on our visit to the Basilica of Sagrada Familia, a temple in Barcelona begun over a hundred years ago and due to be finished in about ten years. The outside of the temple is an immense Gothic structure built largely under the direction of the great Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi; the target date for completion is 2016, the centenary year of Gaudi's death. The outside is striking in terms of both art and architecture. It was, however, when we stepped inside that its true magnificence was revealed: the design of the ceiling, the interplay of the light coming through the stained glass windows of different colors, and the numerous columns rising up, up, up to heaven, branching along the way upward like trees supporting a canopy. For me, it was stunning, as though I had wandered into a spiritual forest.
The second experience involved singing and came on a visit to Montserrat, a multi-peak mountain, about 30 miles outside Barcelona. The highest peak is about 4000 feet, but the rock formations surrounding the religious structures built into the mountain side provide a dramatic backdrop. Beyond hiking the terrain, the highlight of Montserrat is the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. Through much of its history, a legend of the miraculous appearance of a black Madonna has sustained religious and tourist interest. The abbey supports a boys’ choir of 50 boys ages 8-14 who live at the abbey during the week and spend weekends with their parents. They are known internationally as the L'Escolania Choir. They perform two songs in the chapel for visitors at one pm each day, except Saturday, Performances are packed. I love choirs and was very much looking forward to hearing this one. As they began the first selection, I was enchanted by the beauty of their voices, but about thirty seconds into the performance, the different voices merged to produce a sound of such purity and power, I felt myself enveloped and bathed in spiritual beauty. Thrilling is not too strong a word.
I will report in a future post on our visit to the Teatro Del Liceo in Barcelona to see Bellini’s i Capuleti e i Montecchi. It was excellent if not transcendent and English subtitles were an option.