A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 28: Steven as Cordelia

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Steve Bodner
Steve Bodner

I just drove past Steven’s little house. The front drapes were heavy — closed, a little open between. I thought of Cordelia, early in the play, how her mouth must have been a little open, waiting for the words to come. Sisters had eaten all the words, devoured the supply. Then I thought of the supernatural hearing Lear has at the end of the play. How in the recognition scene he sees his daughter again for the first time. Their world is washed. This second Cordelia speaks directly, tersely, with no hesitation. Even at the end when she is dead and truly silent, Lear sees the life in her. He commands others to see. He hears her too. Like Steven’s, her voice was ever soft and low. The others will not hear. Blind and deaf as we are, we side with them. Skeptical is cool. But Lear more than insists that he sees and hears. He commands others to see and hear. There is always the sense that a silent Steven is the hardest thing. Like something has eaten his words. Silence is also the fullest thing. No-one knows this better than a musician.

We have not been washed yet. Hear the words of Wilfred Owen at the end of Britten’s War Requiem:

Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even from wells we sunk too deep for war,
Even from the sweetest wells that ever were.

When I saw the drapes that little bit open, I didn’t go over and look in. What might be seen looking into this secret abandonment? Maybe I would have heard something. Is it true that Steven is well and truly silent? All my sadness can imagine now is his mouth hardly open like the first Cordelia. But I can be washed, and hear Steven as the second Cordelia, and even command others to hear him so. I am trying to do that now, dear reader.

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Twice a Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center, Keith Kibler's doctorate was earned at Yale University and the Eastman School of Music. He is one of the region's most sought after teachers with students accepted at the New England Conservatory, the Juilliard School, Peabody and Hartt Conservatories, the Tanglewood Institute, and the Aspen Music School. Keith Kibler is an adjunct teacher of singing at Williams College.

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