On the road

May 12, 2007

Since Diane and I both work in academia, we have taken trips in mid-May following Spring finals. This year, we are en route to North Carolina for business and pleasure (a bit more on this in subsequent postings). At present, we are staying at the Sleep Inn in Meridian, MS, near the border of Alabama.

Diane and I enjoy taking road trips, even if they can get a bit wearing after several hours. Despite the lack of trunk space, we decided to take my Civic Hybrid to see how much mileage it could get under constant highway driving conditions. So far, we have gotten between 42 and 44 miles per gallon. As for luggage, we decided just to cover what we couldn’t fit in the trunk under a blanket.

On this trip, we didn’t play any music until after lunch. We began with a brand new CD that arrived from Amazon yesterday, whose arrival I awaited with great anticipation. It has soprano Nina Stemme singing the final scenes from two of Richard Strauss’ operas, as well as his Four Last Songs. The disc begins with the final scene from Salome, Strauss’ 1905 shocker about the titular character’s insatiable desire for the prophet Jochanaan. Under Antonio Pappano, the Orchestra for the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) plays briskly, and Salome’s final paroxysm has the spine-tingling and transcendental effect one expects from the best performances. The disc follows with two excerpts from Strauss’ 1942 opera Capriccio, including the ethereal Moonlight music, as well as the final aria sung by the protagonist Madeleine, who has to decide between two suitors: a librettist and a composer, symbolizing the eternal debate about the preeminence of words or music in opera. The mood differs substantially from Salome, but the Capriccio excerpts have the vitality one expects from Strauss’ music. The disc concludes with four songs Strauss wrote in the final few years of his life. He didn’t intend them as a cycle, but they have been performed as such since their premiere in 1950. As one listens to the songs, one can’t help but muse upon the distance in years and mood between them and Salome. Nevertheless, Strauss worked his magic with orchestration a final time with those songs, and the opening notes of Im Abendrot (At Sunset) never fail to open the tear ducts. (Never good while driving, but I managed somehow.) Some critics, likely with an ax to grind and taking his disparagement of organized religion as a cue, have dismissed Strauss’ music as lacking in spirituality. However, his final songs certainly have a spiritual element that I find difficult to ignore.

The music mood differed the rest of the trip, and we played music from Diane’s iPod. We listened some excerpts from music performances on David Letterman’s show (rousing stuff with the Dave Matthews Band, Aretha Franklin, and Lenny Kravitz), and we wound up our trip with a complete run-through of U2’s The Joshua Tree. Then on to the crazy traffic loops around Meridian. For a relatively small city, it’s quite confusing to maneuver around, especially at night. Getting to Red Lobster for dinner wasn’t easy, and trying to find a Wal-Mart where Diane could get yogurt was even worse (we managed to end up in the countryside somehow afterwards). Nevertheless, we made it back to the hotel, and settled with Letterman. We couldn’t miss tonight, with Dave’s mom being on and all.

Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Atlanta should prove a bit more exciting, so the odds of a posting tomorrow seem quite slim. However, if excited enough, I’m sure I’ll crank out something…

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