Tanner’s Annunciation –

It’s back. When I changed templates for the blog, the background painting, Henry Tanner’s Annunciation didn’t transfer, and it’s taken SEVERAL tries to figure out how to bring it back!

I love this painting. Don’t remember where I first learned of it – I heard about it through Fr Benedict Groeschel and my friend Matt at about the same time. Learned this week that it’s in the museum of Art in Philadelphia, and got a very intimate glimpse into what it means to actually get to stand in front of the painting and look at it, from one who has done it numerous times, so often, in fact, that he came to refer to it as “his painting” to his sons. “Let’s go look at Dad’s painting….”

I love this painting. The setting is so simple, so homey. There’s no opulence or grandeur here. The wall hangings and the rug are clearly homespun, the floor local earthenware tiles – it’s a simple home. It’s a believable home – the rug has been kicked up and doesn’t lie flat on the floor – Mary (like me) has not made her bed yet that day –

I love this painting. Look at that angel! No anthropomorphised European males with chin-length, curled-under hair and incongruous wings sprouting too-thinly out of their backs. No! This angel is decidedly Other-Worldly, he conveys all the Mystery of those beings of fire and light whom God uses as His Messengers –

I love this painting! Look at Mary! – no beatific Arian, pale, anemic-looking, frail; this Mary is dark, young, strong; she fits Steve Ray’s description of her as “a tough little Jewish girl with dirty feet!” She looks like a young teenager who might be undergoing all the trauma of changing hormones and the onset of puberty. Look at her hands, her face – incredulous – as Matt said, she looks as if she might be asking, “Are you sure you’re at the right house?” But you can see in her face the coming of that great Fiat: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word.”

You know how this painting feels to me? It feels as if I might have been there, as if I might have just rounded a corner through one of those archways and witnessed it all for myself. I feel the reverence and awe of being an accidental witness to one of the holiest moments in all of human history.



He could be anywhere between the ages of 25 and 60, possessing a yuthful appearance but such incredible presence and power, not to mention expertise, that defies youth. And he, Maestro Francesco Maria Colombo, is conducting an opera Gala with the Opera Company of North Carolina this weekend.

It is my first experience singing opera.

Odd business, this. I’m the descendant of the Puritans, almost 100% English (a little Dutch thrown in a few generations back), with that stiff upper lip and deeply ingrained reserve the English are noted for – not to mention the traditions of self-denial and constraint of the females of the American South. And here I am singing opera choruses by Italian composers, being instructed by this Maestro to emote, to feel in the music as I’m not “supposed” to feel in real life.

“More sex!” he commanded for the women’s trio of the Triumphal March from Aida. “Ladies, put more sex into your voices – use hormones!” We laughed, a little nervously I noticed…. how does one put sex into the voice????? But we appear to have succeeded; maybe those among us who have sung opera before know what he meant.

He told us to put more soul into “Patria Oppressa” (the Lament of the Scottish Refugees from Verdi’s MacBeth) “It is the saddest thing Verdi ever wrote,” he told us (and I’ll take his word for it) – “the audience should be in tears!”

Emotion! Unaccustomed, a bit frightening –

We rehearsed … was it last night or is it still tonight? I got home at midnight, the cat woke me up at quarter til four… – here I am, posting – with the orchestra and soloists. Wonderful cast! (See here) Simply magic. I don’t know Italian, and I don’t know how a true proficient would rate these singers, but for my money (considerable with gas at nearly $3.30/gallon and that long drive to and from Raleigh) these men and women are outstanding – clear, impassioned, gifted…

The music touches something in me, and it’s a bit scary. I found my thoughts going places I didn’t want them to go, listening – places of such intense feeling that I am almost afraid of. I was taught to suppress feelings, to control them – but for me it’s gone too far, I’ve lost the ability to cry even when it is appropriate and needful. During the rehearsal I felt frighteningly close to tears several times. I’m a little (!) concerned that I might break over and shed tears during the performance –

and, once begun, not be able to stop.

It occurs to me that there is something cathartic and therefore therapeutic about this music – I only wish I had a mentor to teach me how to use it well.