Passion: Love and a Bit of a Rant

Monday Morning Musings

“Just another love story, that’s what they would claim.
Another simple love story – aren’t all of them the same?”

“Loving you is not a choice, it’s who I am.”

–Stephen Sondheim, Passion

On Saturday, we saw Passion, a musical by Stephen Sondheim that explores what it means to love and be loved. What is romantic love? What is passion? What is obsession? How and why do dreams and desires change? These are questions that Sondheim explores in the story of the nineteenth-century Italian army officer Giorgio who is having an affair with a married woman, Clara. The show opens with the lovers in bed singing of their happiness, but then Giorgio reveals that he has received a transfer to a remote military outpost. Shortly after his arrival there, Giorgio learns of Fosca, his commanding officer’s sister whose place is set at the table, but who seldom appears there. Before long, Fosca, declares her love to Giorgio, a man she barely knows. In fact Fosca, who suffers from a vague and debilitating illness, is obsessed with Giorgio. This production at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia had a cast with wonderful voices, but it also featured a great set and lighting design: Clara was lovely and beguiling in pink-hued gowns, and bathed in golden sunshine whenever the shutters in their Milan hotel room were opened. (The lovers could only meet in the afternoon because of her husband.) Clara loves Giorgio, but perhaps her love is a diversion from her humdrum life. Fosca appears in drab gowns with the gray and dreary view of the outpost in the background. Fosca suffers from a disease of the mind and spirit, as well as her physical ailments. Or perhaps they are all one and the same. They consume her, and her obsession consumes Giorgio.

The show is based on the novel Fosca, by Ignio Ugo Tarchetti. Tarchetti was dying of tuberculosis–also called consumption–as he wrote the book, which was inspired by events in his own life. The book was turned into a movie, Passione d’Amore (1983).

What does passion mean? Passion is an intense feeling. Long ago it was associated with pain and suffering, as in the passion of Christ, or the suffering endured by martyrs who were tortured for their beliefs. Passion is often seen as an emotion that is barely controllable because of its intensity. People are often depicted as crazed with passion. Passionate love then can be both good and bad. One can have a passion for a cause that is admirable, or that becomes obsessive.

I’ve been thinking about all this because of events in the news. There is a couple in Australia, Nick and Sarah Jensen, who have vowed to divorce if a gay marriage law is passed there. (See this article.) They are entitled to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how the marriages of same sex couples affect their own union at all. And just as a matter of logic, I don’t understand why if they reject the state’s definition of marriage—if the law passes—they then believe the state has the power to grant them a divorce. I guess it’s passion, and not logic that is in play here.

In the US, evangelist Franklin Graham, called for a boycott of Wells Fargo Bank after the bank began airing a TV advertisement that featured a lesbian couple adopting a child. (The commercial is incredibly sweet.) Well, economic boycotts have a long tradition in the US. My inclinations would be not to support a business that discriminates against a group rather than one that is supporting diversity. Again, Graham has the right to his own beliefs, and he does say businesses should be “gay friendly.” However, he also apparently believes that an organization should not support a position that he feels is contrary to his views–which are based on his interpretation of the bible. Do no harm to others–just don’t allow them all the same rights, I guess. Fortunately, we do not live in a theocracy. (See this.)

Neither Graham nor the Jensens advocate violence. But there are true haters, people passionate in their hatred of others. I saw this article yesterday about a young man who has been beaten and tortured—ostensibly because he is gay. His family and their business have also suffered.

You know what? Sondheim was right that every love story is the same–and every love story is different. But I believe in love. Love is love. I believe love is good. I believe love is good for families and nations. When two people who are in love—consenting adults–want to get married, it does not harm society, even if they are gay, and even if they want to have a family. “Gay marriage” is no different from straight marriage in terms of love and commitment. Couples love and share passion. This is not immoral.

You know what is immoral?

People living in extreme poverty.

People starving.

Women—and children—kidnapped and raped as tools of war.


Sex trafficking.

Depriving people of medical care and education.

It seems to me that if people are truly concerned with the wellbeing of their societies, those are just a few things they might focus on—not who people love. But hey, that’s just me.

As far as those filled with hate for others, I don’t know. I don’t think a hate-filled mind can love, although it can be filled with passion.

26 thoughts on “Passion: Love and a Bit of a Rant

  1. I have always thought that my job is to love others. Since I am not God, I’ll not judge other people’s behavior. You’ve done a lot of research here, Merril, and it shows.

  2. Those are definitely some “good” immoral choices! Passion is such an interesting word. When my daughter was in high school, it was her favorite word, the word she used to define herself. She was dance captain senior year and named the annual dance production Passion. The kids knew it was kind of her theme. I don’t hear her use that word very often any more. She still has her same passions (musical theatre, for example–hence, this post is in her field), but she’s a little more battle scarred at 27 than at 17.

    • I’m glad I struck a chord with you (to continue
      the musical allusion). I actually first heard the musical Passion when my older daughter (same age as yours) was in high school. She asked me to record the show, which was being broadcast on PBS–she was going to be out that night for some school event–rehearsal or something. This was VRC recording, and I started watching to make sure it was recording ok–and I got hooked. My husband walked by, and then he sat down and started watching it, too. 🙂 I think Patti Lupone was Fosca.

      • My daughter and I saw Patti Lupone in concert in Phoenix a few years ago. She’s an interesting performer. I think she’s hot or cold, meaning she’s either “perfect” or too cold for the role. Maybe this recording is available somewhere and I could check it out eventually. Do you remember that TV show she used to be on–years and years ago? Life Goes On

  3. I agree, Merill. We have entirely too much hate in this country, love is the answer, not the problem, and the truly immoral acts are those that deprive others of their humanity.

  4. Self-righteous people always scare me because they think they have are right and everybody else is wrong. And yes, hatred never creates anything good, it only destroys. Thanks for your post.

  5. Thanks Merril for this post … do those who hate others because of their love for others hate themselves on some fundamental level maybe? I wonder. If there is love on their hearts, there is no room for hate or exclusion or name calling. Perhaps their passion in hating others is distorted in some way …

    I’m also keeping my response short …

  6. True passion, to me, is someone who is there for you thru thick and thin. I’ve read some stories recently of those who devote their all to an ailing spouse.

    Basing your relationship on any one else’s – as you pointed out – diminishes your own relationship. It’s a waste to invest any time or emotion on hate and the exact opposite of what most major religions preach – which is love thy neighbor as thyself and treat others as you want to be treated.

  7. I’ve never understood why homophobic people care one way or another if a same sex couple gets married… It doesn’t affect them one way or another! They don’t pay higher taxes, not more on insurance premiums, so just because they personally think it may be “immoral” since they aren’t the ones doing it, why does it matter? Mean people suck. That includes judgmental people.

  8. You are absolutely right, poverty, hunger, pain, those are the true immoralities of our time. Agree on every point. Following. (Also in Phila area so we have much in common.)

  9. What a beautiful post! The problem is … I could share your well-articulated, rational post with some of my relatives and they would say, “what’s wrong with a theocracy?” Their minds are so set a certain way, they are seemingly unable to understand anything contrary to their POV. In fact, they are the first (at least on Facebook) to complain that they can no longer speak honestly because they might offend someone, and yet they post one right-wing meme after another. Sigh.

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