— Jaimie Appleton (@TheJappleton) December 16, 2016
(…) 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.
All of us like to swallow a piece or ten of instant wisdom every now and again. Even if it is about opera. We are just too lazy to read lengthy papers on any topic and prefer to get enlightened by short and catchy tunes known as QUOTES.
Unlike compilations of affirmative quotations that can be found on the web, this one is intended to make you think twice before you book those tickets for an opera performance. Or, if you are an exhibitionist, so-called out-of-the-box kind of person, maybe you will embrace the opportunity all the more eagerly. The latter would be even better because we are always in need of new motivational and demotivational quotes. (You’re welcome to contribute by sharing them.)
Let’s begin with one that addresses the very essence of opera.
1) If you wish to know what OPERA is, I shall tell you that it is a fantastical work of Poetry and of Music, in which the Poet and the Musician, equally embarassed the one with the other, take great pains to turn out an evil work.
Charles de Saint-Denis de Saint-Évremond
This 17th-century man of letters was apparently malevolent and did what opera hates the most – deconstructing its structure. Yes, it is usually bad poetry and loose drama. Yes, the music can sometimes be not-so-good if one would extract it for some reason. But music and poetry are interdependent when woven into an opera and therefore should be taken as a whole, just the way they were meant to be.
2) The opera is like a husband with a foreign title: expensive to support, hard to understand, and, therefore, a supreme social challenge.
Many sexists would, no doubt, compare it to a wife rather than a husband. Hysteria, blabbering and repeating all kinds of nonsense all the time, when all a man needs while resting in his armchair and smoking a pipe is some peace and tranquility.
But does one really need a foreign-titled spouse that comes with all sorts of complications and is hard to support? Let’s see an answer to this question, provided by a famous composer and conductor.
3) I once said that the most elegant solution of the problem of opera was to blow up the opera houses, and I still think this true.
Ok, chère Pierre. We know you were an old complainer who struggled with the very concept of opera. And refused to conduct anything Italian, because opera is, more often than not, Italian. And who hated contemporary opera too. And tried to compose one, in vain. And made a controversy out of Wagner’s “Ring” (for which you earned our eternal gratitude). Blowing up art ventures is such a modern thing to do. But we live in a postmodern era now, so we are way past that. Better than exterminate a supposedly outdated art form, let’s laugh at it. That way it will still continue to exist, as a guilty pleasure to enjoy when no one can see us.
4) I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws.
Admittedly, there’s much to hate in Wagner. But instead of deciding between Wagner and a cat, we can mix them together, just like an Imgur user did.
Such a spicy comment on Wagner, however, came from a poet who was his ardent worshipper, as you can see for yourself in his fan letter.
5) The thing to do for insomnia is to get an opera score and read THAT. THAT will bore you to death.
Reading can be an awesome way to lull oneself into sleep. But reading an opera score, when you are a singer, usually means reading it out loud. Really loud. The great American mezzo-soprano left us to imagine what kind of dreams it could lead into.
6) Real life is imparted to the opera by the use of prisons, daggers, poison, the writing of letters on stage, bear and wild bull hunts, earthquakes, storms, sacrifices, the settling of accounts, and mad scenes…
Opera stagings in the baroque era were full of unearthly (but alas! all too earthly) effects such as these observed by Marcello, who was – guess what – a composer. In his 1720 satirical essay “The Fashionable Theater”, which you can read online if you read Italian, he mocks the burlesque he thought opera had become thanks to vainglorious divas and social machinery that was supporting it all. We can suppose he was a well-minded critic. Perhaps his rancor was directed to his contemporaries rather than the opera itself as an art form. But even if it weren’t so, it’s a nice piece of rancor.
Marcello, you aren’t alone. Even the haters of our time either detest opera’s excessiveness and dramatic implausibility or reproach any effort to modernize it by bringing it closer to the modern theater. Both fractions are and aren’t right, because us opera lovers enjoy it for its overabundance, as well as its flexibility and power to transform and, thereby, survive.
7) Of all the noises known to man, opera is the most expensive.
A-ha! Here is the precursor of today’s hypocritical rants. Like all the blockbuster movies and TV series weren’t expensive. Like opera is the worst money-drainer. Like it didn’t require hundreds of persons on, below and off the stage in order to be performed. Finally, like all the kings and nobles ever haven’t been willing to support opera AND theater AND all other kinds of amusement available.
8) I hate the opera. I think I must have a tin ear. No matter how hard I concentrate it still sounds like a bunch of Italian chefs screaming risotto recipes at each other.
We can’t say Onassis didn’t have an opportunity to hear a good opera singer. In spite of the fact he was made of money, he apparently wasn’t too fond of this type of extravagance, not even after he captured Maria Callas’ heart. No wonder she neglected opera while enjoying their love adventure. There is no place for singing out the “Ah’s” and “Oh’s” of opera when you’re trapped with someone who can’t stand it.
9) Going to opera, like getting drunk, is a sin that carries its own punishment with it, and that a very serious one.
Madame More was, as Wikipedia would have us believe, a philanthropist, as well as a religious writer and a moralist. She was also a prominent opponent of female education, because women, in her opinion, had better things to do. Like taking care of their families. Of course she thought women are unfit to govern or take part in public life. That being said, we find her incompetent to judge opera which tends to be feminine, but nevertheless decided to include this quotation because it deals with sin and drinking.
This brings us to our last quote for the day.
10) Bed is the poor man’s opera.
An Italian proverb
Opera is an Italian invention. Although it was born in a narrow circle of intellectual aristocrats who fancied themselves as inheritors and restorers of the classical Greek tragedy, it apparently became an awesome thing to joke about among ordinary people. All jokes have a grain of truth. But is this one saying more about opera or poor people and their beds? I would think of it this way: opera likes beds, and beds like opera. Thanks to the miracle of internet, nowadays you can watch opera in bed. Thanks to your imagination, you can bring its lasciviousness to bed as well.
Which quote do you agree with most? Tell us in the comments section. Or share your favorite. Or invent a new one if you like.