So, What Is Opera Anyway? Let’s Ask Wisława Szymborska



Photo by Mariusz Kubik. Source: Wikimedia Commons

(…) The opera world has been managed by tough personal politics. Family relationships have been established by iron relations, as in primal tribes. A soprano is bound to be the daughter of a bass, the wife of a baritone and the lover of a tenor. A tenor is prohibited from fathering an alto or having a sexual intercourse with a contralto. A baritone paramour is a true rarity and he’d better look for a mezzosoprano. For that matter, mezzosopranos should be careful with tenors, as their fate usually leads them into the role of “someone else” or an even more miserable position of a soprano’s friend. The only bearded lady (see Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress) in the history of opera is a mezzo and, naturally, she is unhappy. Basses are almost universally fathers, cardinals, infernal forces, prison officials, and there is one manager of a mental hospital. However, the above notes shouldn’t lead to any conclusion. I respect opera which is not real life and life which is sometimes a real opera.

Excerpt from Nonrequired Reading by Wisława Szymborska

Don’t blame Wisława for this excerpt’s formal shortcomings, if any. Blame the lousy translator, i.e. me.

Want some more opera quotes? Check out this article. It’s only half as boring as most of those endless lists of quotes you might find elsewhere on the internet.


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