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Contrast - A Wagner Opera and Its Lessons For a Fulfilling Life

Elias Scultori

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Yesterday I had the privilege to see Wagner's Tristan Und Isolde at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. It was a 5-hour endeavor (it started at 7 PM and went on until a little pass midnight) that brought me to places of wonder, feelings of beauty and in contact with the true reality of human existence.

Now, if you are not familiar with opera, you might be wondering what in the world I am talking about. I know! Although opera singers were once as in vogue as Britney Spears is today, the genre has lost its popular appeal. I would guess that most people nowadays, would shrink with the idea of going to the opera. However, it certainly didn't feel like that yesterday. Even though we were in one of the largest opera theaters in the world, the performance was completely sold out. Even after we had been sitting on those chairs for almost the same amount of time as the average American spends sleeping every night, we all stayed for an extra 15 minutes giving a standing ovation to all singers and musicians. We couldn't get enough!

If you've never seen Tristan, I say: This is certainly worth a Saturday afternoon and a Netflix rental. If you have an opera house close by, go purchase a ticket and indulge. But when you “take the plunge", make sure you don't simply spend the time hearing the music and noticing the singer's funny faces. Instead, I encourage you to dive a little deeper. This work is called a masterpiece for a reason. If you listen closely, don't be surprised, you might find yourself moved and touched by a raw depiction of humanity.

Wagner's opera is all about contrast. As the story develops he brings us closer to our own real contradictions - day and night, light and darkness, male and female, friendship and betrayal, love and death. Even the set of yesterday's performance was half black, half white. And as I journeyed through this story, I couldn't help thinking about the importance of this contrast in our lives. How life would be without its ups and downs?

If you think carefully, how would you know and value happiness if you didn't feel sadness? How would you have the pleasure to sigh on relief if you hadn't felt the pain? How would we aspire for heaven if we didn't recognize the bit of hell that exists in our own story?

Today, we tend to blindly yearn for goodness and reject any hint of grief and sorrow. In an age where for every pain there is a pill and where comfort must be achieved at all costs, we are pushed into the false assumption that a fulfilling life is synonymous to experiencing happy feelings all the time. The simple suggestion of a melancholic feeling becomes a trigger to desperation, dissatisfaction and concern.

A fulfilling life is a complete life. And life is everything. Unhappy feelings, distress and pain are inevitable. They will happen. We will all experience them one way or another. And if we keep denying them and so eagerly refuse to accept them as a fact, the more painful they will become.

Not that we should simply give up when the pain comes. This is no way to live either. The secret is balance and the humility to understand that not every moment will be perfect, not every situation will be pleasurable.

M. Scott Peck starts his best-seller book The Road Less Traveled with the phrase "life is difficult. " He goes on saying that it is only when we accept this idea and stop fighting against it that we are able to understand fulfillment and joy.

As you would imagine, in the opera, both Tristan and Isolde were never able to accept the contrast of life - of course. This is a romantic opera. What else would you expect? Instead, they end up choosing death in the hopes that it would give them eternal peace and love. What they didn't know was that relief was imminent. Their nemesis, King Marke was closely approaching to pardon and unite them. Life had been a struggle for them, but peace was just round the corner. I hope you will remember this next time grief comes your way.

Elias Scultori is a professional life coach. His practice and speaking engagements expand across the country and abroad. His focus is on helping his clients remove barriers, unearth their talents and true desires so they can build a personal and/or professional life journey that is full, rewarding and authentic. Elias was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and presently lives in Princeton, NJ. To find out more go to


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