- Opera House
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Everything seemed married to everything else.—Gustave Baumann, printmaker, Santa Fe [End Page 43]
A mere 7,918 miles in diameter, Earth, our home together, travels a minuscule distance in relation to all that we see on clear nights, light years away out in the stars. The core of our globe is a mix of iron and nickel, solid like a cherry pit. That solid inner core is wrapped in a liquid outer core, and around that a mantle eighteen hundred miles thick, about the distance from New York to Denver. This mantle—solid in parts, liquid in places, plastic in others—roils in convection currents under a relatively thin fourteen-mile crust, a vulnerable skin of sorts that weathers all seasons while holding on in a tenuous relationship with the globe's deeper workings. That crust beneath our feet is constantly buckling, cracking, spreading, wrinkling, and pouring forth to reveal, as a face reveals, what goes on inside. Earth is face-all-over, and its insides are hot, reaching in places eight thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
In a similar way, all of us on Earth are hot under our skins. We stay around ninety-eight degrees inside, like a sultry August afternoon. Besides that, our inner emotional temperatures swing wildly. As with our globe, contained though we are, each of our faces displays what's going on and has gone on inside. Look at photographs of Abraham Lincoln through the course of the Civil War. Look at Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother, 1936. No matter our cosmetic preparations or our plastic surgeries, our inner churning will mark us in one way or another, and Earth is our stage. We are held in its gravitational clutches under its shifting atmospheres. Earth takes its toll on our inner burnings as we fashion entrances and exits through scenes, strutting and fretting our hours together on this little stage in cosmic space.
Certain places on Earth give dramatic views of the globe's inner life: geysers and chromatic pools in Yellowstone's caldera; Spider Woman's perch eight hundred feet above the floor of Canyon de Chelly; Mount Monadnock's bare metamorphic pinnacle out of New Hampshire's woods. We travel for the sublime perspective gained when we visit geologic wonders, even those that take us to the brink of the cataclysmic.
The opera house works in much the same way, by giving stage and voice to plays of our inner lives and the way those lives sing to each other through comedy and tragedy. Against the dark, opera stages construct islands of light for the likes of the Dutchman's ghostly ship or the Paris garret shared by a group of poor Bohemians. Technicians, like acrobats high in the rafters, have set and focused lights while timing and blending colors for a concentrated three hours through which our inner [End Page 44] lives play out before us. In lonely arias, tender duets, contentious trios, and exultant choruses, the opera house brings specimen worlds to life in harmonies and dissonances through a marriage of music and words, voices and instruments, texts and scores, costumes and wigs. We buy tickets to view these skillfully constructed worlds where we witness our own faults and eruptions, our deceptions and jealousies, our weddings, our deaths, even our journeys to the underworld: Otello, Così fan tutte, Carmen, Death in Venice, Orphée et Eurydice.
Each August when my wife, Margot, and I leave our home in Wyoming for the opera, we drive east on Owl Creek Road out to Wyoming 120, then head for Cheyenne and Denver on our way to Santa Fe. The road west of our house disappears up in the mountains. We live in a sheltered angle where two mountain ranges meet. The Owl Creek foothills descend in smooth alluvial fans down to our back pasture. The Absaroka Mountains stretch north and south along the western horizon, a more distant, jagged, granitic ridge.
Our road crosses ranchland—neighbors' holdings, large and small. Some raise sheep, but most run cattle. All around us, the landscape...