Today I went to the local movie theater to see an HD simulcast of this afternoon’s performance of Riccardo Zandonai’s opera Francesca da Rimini by the Metropolitan Opera. The tragic story of Francesca and her lover, Paolo, which was immortalized by Dante in The Inferno (and which I wrote about briefly here), has inspired numerous plays, operas, and paintings over the centuries.This production, which was last performed in 1984, is stunning. Francesca and her attendants wear gorgeous gowns in rich, deep colors covered with sumptuous embroidery. The sets transport you to 13th century Italy, and the music is filled with the passion of these desperate lovers.
T.S. Eliot wrote that “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal.” The numerous versions of this story speak to the unending influence of its original source, which in turn contains countless references and allusions to other works of literature. In his brief telling of Paolo and Francesca’s story, Dante includes lines about Lancelot and Guinevere. While a reader or viewer of the opera doesn’t have to have knowledge of these works to understand what’s going on, having that knowledge deepens their appreciation of the story.
Last weekend, in her closing remarks at the TCRWP Saturday Reunion, Lucy Calkins urged teachers to build our knowledge base about the CCSS. She urged us to be wary of the Publishers’ Criteria, written by David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, which directly contradict the standards and intentions laid out in the original document. Anchor standard nine of the CCSS expects that students will be able to “analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics.” Eighth grade readers are specifically asked to:
Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on themes, patterns of events, or character types from myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new. (RL.8.9)
Yet in the Publishers’ Criteria, Coleman and Pimentel demand that readers “focus on what lies within the four corners of the text.” How will students successfully meet standard nine if they can’t leave the confines of the text in front of them? Why would we make them try?
I’m glad I didn’t have to stay within the four corners of Zondanai’s opera this afternoon. I had a much richer experience.