At a lonely clearing in a wood, a group of blind people await the return of a priest who led them there in order to enable them to enjoy the last rays of the sun before the beginning of winter. Only the sound of the nearby sea can be heard. The longer they wait, the more restless the blind people become; in their desperation they realise that they are helpless and cannot move from their place. Their fear escalates to naked terror when they discover the corpse of the priest. The blind people form a circle round the dead man and begin to pray for forgiveness and salvation. Steps become perceptible during the prayer. The presence of something mysterious makes the blind people panic; they pray ever more fervently. In his mother’s arms, the small child, the only person in the group who can see, breaks out sobbing. What does the child see? Is it rescue, the rescue so ardently hoped for, or is it death?
This opera will be performed at Lincoln Center in June. It has already been performed in Moscow and Berlin. Auerbach is a major player in the music world. Apparently Auerbach read Maurice Maeterlinck 1890 one act play the Blind and believed it would make a great opera. As I understand Maeterlinck, he thought blindness was a metaphor for the human condition. That is life often leads us astray and powerful forces beyond our control dictate our lives. I am by no means a literary analyst but I do get that Maeterlinck was not writing about people who were blind but rather those who are disempowered. Symbolism I get. What I do not get is how Auerbach could have written the above words. It is 2013 not 1890. The play by Maeterlinck was important circa 1890 but is highly objectionable today. Let me correct myself: the words above are not objectionable they are offensive in the extreme. It is ableism run amuck.
What was Auerback thinking? In her words: “I love Maeterlinck. When I read ‘The Blind’ I thought to myself - this story is a perfect opera. Or anti-opera. And it needs to be done a-cappella. Since some of the characters are continuously praying or chanting - this provides a perfect structure for a chamber-music approach to balancing of the voices where some of the voices provide a constant harmonic base, while the others play more prominent voices.”
This is intellectual masturbation. The play rests upon the premise that the blind characters are utterly and completely helpless, dependent upon others. By extension blind people today are dependent retches. My friend Stephen Kuusisto wrote the following email when he learned the Blind would be performed at Lincoln Center.
The description of the opera on Lera Auerbach's website left me speechless, inasmuch as it employs nearly every conceivable "ableist" cliche about blindness one can employ--blindness is embedded in her précis with more cliches than any one person may creditably imagine. In fact the synopsis is so offensive I'm left with a dislocated mandible which I hope is a temporary condition as I'm at the MacDowell Colony for the Arts and there are no local dentists. How could Ms. Auerbach imagine that in 2013 blindness can still be used as a metaphor for lack of knowing or knowledgeability; powerlessness, spiritual failure, immobility, or worse, stand as a metonymic reduction for death itself? The description from her web site would, in fact, cause me to cry save that her prose is so louche and decadent one finally has to conclude this is a joke. Will Lincoln Center actually print this in the programs?