Head Master, Dr Millan Sachania, addresses the U6 today, urging our girls as they move forward in life to make choices that reflect their ideals — living authentically based on ‘your individuality, your distinctive character and your unique spirit.’
One of the most intriguing of his operas is, I think, The Makropulos Case, written in 1925, which I had the great pleasure of seeing at Glyndebourne a little while ago. The opera tells of a woman called Elina Makropulos, whose father, Hieronymus, was court physician to the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II.
Hieronymus succeeded in finding an elixir of life in 1565, a drug that prolonged life indefinitely if taken at regular intervals. The Emperor compelled Hieronymus to administer the potion to his daughter, Elina, to test it out. And it worked.
At the time of the opera, Elina Makropulos is 342 years old; for 300 years she has been 42 years old. Every 60 or 70 years she changes her identity to avoid suspicion, but she always retains her initials, EM;
in her life she has been Elina Makropulos, a Scottish singer Ellen MacGregor, also Ekaterian Myshkin, Elsa Müller, and, by the time that the action of the opera takes place, Emilia Marty.
Despite these transformations of character, her unending life has come to a state of boredom, indifference and coldness. Everything is joyless; ‘in the end it is the same’, she says, ‘singing and silence’.
Thus devoid of expectations, goals, relationships, and ambitions, indeed idealism, hers is a frozen and impotent existence, brought on by a life that is not constrained by time.
In an infinite mortal existence, there can be no meaningful decisions, no significant action, just a never-ceasing cycle of experience. It must eventually overwhelm not merely one’s vitality but one’s very identity. It’s the constraint of time, the irony that one choice must curtail another, which imbues action with meaning.
The ineluctable truth is that, unlike Emilia Marty, we mortals are all constrained by time; perhaps this is why music is so integral to the human spirit. And this means that every choice we make is significant. Every choice is significant.
And though we can (and will) make decisions that are wrong, or choose unwisely, we can always learn from our actions and make new choices in the future. My message to you, the UVI, as you progress into the world beyond SCHS, is this:
Make choices that reflect your ideals.
Foster meaningful, positive relationships that, even if in the smallest way, add significance and value to the world about you. Live your life authentically, that is in a way that reflects your individuality, your distinctive character, your unique spirit. Take with you the values you have developed at SCHS, and the friendships you have nurtured.
Above all, take with you a thirst for knowledge for its own sake, — a speculative, curious and inquisitive attitude that enables you to take a delight in life, so that you are equipped to dispel boredom in a way that Emilia Marty’s elixir denied her.
I’ll be more specific. Go on a lifelong quest for knowledge of the first-rate.
By knowledge of the first-rate, I mean examples of:
· the pinnacles of achievement in literature, poetry, art, sport, film, architecture, fashion, music, anything
· the best practice in any relevant vocation, be it surgery or accountancy
For I believe that such knowledge, knowledge of the first-rate, gives direction, purpose and drive.
· Direction, because it shows what is good, as well as what is bad.
· Purpose, because it reveals an ideal to pursue.
· And Drive, because an ideal stirs to action.
Direction, purpose, drive, idealism, action: they are all gifts of the constraint of time. Emilia Marty’s elixir robbed her of these, but, UVI, they’re yours if you want them. Do your best; good luck, and never forget…
you are and will always remain a cherished member of the SCHS community. I look forward to seeing you when we can all get together in person again – and do not doubt it : that day will come!