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12 February 2013 ·

Sylvia Plath in the Domestic Sublime

Sylvia Plath died 50 years ago, but last night, on the anniversary of her death, we heard her words and spirit live on in Danaë Killian’s Sylvia Plath in the Domestic Sublime: A Pianist Opens her Veins and Speaks.
A selection of poems, interspersed with piano music, at the Melbourne Recital Hall: it sounds quite benign. But these were Plath’s poems: sharp, precise and dark, performed dramatically and movingly. You couldn’t miss the weight of depression, the ambivalence about children, hammering behind those powerfully rhythmic words. 
And then the music, chosen for each poem, from Bach’s Goldberg Variations  and Schoenberg’s Opus 11 & 19. I know too little about music to say anything meaningful about it, except that it would have been a wonderful concert on its own. In the context of interpreting Plath’s poems, it was amazing, virtuoso – and it worked. It added another dimension to the poems, echoing and expanding, allowing you to explore their depths long after the words had been spoken.
That’s what art does. We each take it in and not only interpret it, but enhance it through our own interpretation. When a true artist opens her own veins in that interpretation, the art is born anew.
I don’t know if Killian will repeat this performance, but if she does, whether or not you’re a Plath fan or have even read her – see it. 
And if not, you can always turn to a book, and interpret it for yourself. But don’t just read it: be brave, in the privacy of your own room and read aloud, feel the weight of each word and the rhythms of the lines. 
It’s even set me to wondering about the music that I would use to interpret the scenes that I’m working on right now, and wondering, if I find the right pieces, will they enhance my own vision of the scenes? It’d be interesting to try.
And if I could paint, would the art that expressed a scene be altered by the music? I’m sure it would. 
I didn’t know I was going to come to that conclusion when I started this post, but that’s what happens. Art influences us, and takes us places we didn’t expect to go. 

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio