I have a confession to make. A confession that does not reflect well on me at all. Here it is: I have never been able to develop an appreciation for opera.
For this bit of cultural ignorance, I beg the indulgence of any readers who are fond of the art form. The fault is all mine. I realize that there are opera devotees who will travel the globe to experience the latest version of The Ring Cycle in Bayreuth. I can only envy them their good taste and their passion. I, however, fell asleep during the last opera that I attended (Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, a couple of decades ago).
"Swan Upping at Cookham" (1915-1919)
To demonstrate the depths of cultural depravity to which I have sunk, I shamefacedly admit that the opening lines of a song that I have been listening to off and on for over 40 years still give me a thrill each time I hear them: "They're selling postcards of the hanging/They're painting the passports brown/The beauty parlor is filled with sailors/The circus is in town." In contrast, the sublimest moments of opera leave me cold. (An aside which further demonstrates my Philistinism: when I discover that a poet whose work I admire has written a libretto, my heart sinks like a stone.)
Again, I am solely to blame for this blind spot. But I fear that it is too late to be remedied. I have sometimes toyed with the idea of learning ancient Greek in my autumn years. But, attend another performance of Die Meistersinger? I'm afraid not.
All of this leads in a roundabout way to the following poem by James Reeves. Opera may not be to my taste, but it may nonetheless be a mirror of Life.
The lovers have poisoned themselves and died singing,
And the crushed peasant father howls in vain.
For his duplicity, lubricity and greed
The unspeakable base count is horribly slain.
After the music, after the applause,
The lights go up, the final curtain drops.
The clerks troop from the house, and some are thinking:
Why is life different when the singing stops?
All that hysteria and those histrionics,
All those coincidences were absurd.
But if there were no relevance to life,
Why were they moved to shudder and applaud?
Though they outlived that passion, it was theirs,
As was the jealousy, the sense of wrong
When some proud jack-in-office trampled them;
Only it did not goad them into song.
The accidents, the gross misunderstandings,
Paternal sorrow, amorous frustration
Have they not suffered? Was the melodrama
An altogether baseless imitation?
James Reeves, The Questioning Tiger (1964).