Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings.

Phantom of the Opera

“Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings.” ― Robert Benchley

Numbers of operas which I have seen performed live – 1.

It was at the Royal Opera House in London. It was The Magic Flute. And all I can recall is there were people who were parrots, and some freemasonry stuff going on.

It’s not the opera with the proverbial fat lady who when she sings it’s over. But it does have one of the more well known opera arias sung by a lady, a Queen of the Night. It was interminable… not really as it would still be going on and I’d still be there, my bum numb in the uncomfortable velvet seat… but it felt like it at the time. The Queen of the Night reminded me of my mother and her endless drama and high-pitched ear-piercing squeaking…

Mozart – The Magic Flute – Queen of the Night aria

I’m not counting the operas I have watched on TV or the Gilbert and Sullivan D’Oyly Carte operas. I went to see a couple of those, not sure which ones. I recall that I found them funny. And the memory lived on, so much so that when I cam across this gem…

I’ve Got a Little List – The Mikado – Gilbert and Sullivan

We’ve all got one of those lists, even those of us (me) who hate making lists.

… I shared it with several friends who gave me a WhyTF are you sharing this highbrow nonsense with me look.

Opera isn’t really highbrow, it’s just one of those things that has come to be perceived that way.

From where a part of my genes come, everyone sings opera. It’s by the people and for the people. It’s an art which belongs to all people.

I remember once while driving from Rome to the deep dark south with my father to visit his hometown, he spent most of the drive singing loudly in operatic style while driving. The roads which we took to get there were carved into the side of cliffs, and with each crescendo which caused him to close his eyes and wave his arms about I was concerned that it would cause a descendo down the side of the cliff onto the sharp rocks below.

It was also the sort of road where if you took a wrong turning, which was common as the signs were almost non-existent and the ones which did exist were misleading, perhaps deliberately so as this was once brigand territory, you ended up in a small town where everyone was dressed in mourning black and glared at you, the foreign intruder, with coal eyes.

Opera was a part of my life growing up. My father liked to listen to it when he painted. My mother had studied it with the ambition of following a career path in it… that was why she was in Italy, sort of, depending on the story she told, and how she came to meet my father, sort of, depending on the story she told. I don’t actually know his side of the story of their meeting. Not sure why he never told that particular story.

Many years ago I came across a book, a massive tome, which summarised the plot of every opera. I devoured that book voraciously. And at the end of it I had my eyes opened to the fact that even the light-hearted opera stories are human tragedies, tragedies which keep repeating in modern life. But without the singing after being stabbed in the back.

Which made me wonder… what if we were to burst into operatic song when we were hurt by one of life’s tragedies!? Would that someone ease our pain and make it more bearable. Or something like that.

I’m one of those people who tends to keep their pain quiet.

Ask me how I am and the answer will be – I’m fine.

What I actually mean is – I’m not sharing my pain, suffering, burden with you, I know you have your own, you don’t need me to add mine to yours.

I’m not being noble. I’m just being private. Privately selfish.

But what if I were to just burst into operatic song as a reply to – How are you?

I can’t sing, but… details… I have a voice and in the shower it sounds decent enough to my frothy soap-filled ears.

What would I sing?

My favourite opera aria is… yes, it’s a predictable favourite… Figaro.

The Barber of Seville – Figaro’s aria

That aria to me expresses the Italian ethos, the part which I enjoy having coursing through my blood and consciousness. The ideal of it. Gregarious and generous bonhommie, a little bit of inflated ego going a long way in an effort to share a love for life.

My mother’s favourite opera was a dark and destructive tale of love and art – Tosca – she saw herself as Tosca and my father as Cavadarossi and this was her favourite aria from that…

Angela Gheorgiu – Vissi D’Arte from Tosca by Puccini

The lyrics explain a lot about her view of herself and the world. She particularly loved the part where Tosca stabs Scarpia, the person whom she considers responsible for all the evil in her life and says – This is the kiss of Tosca (Questo e il baccio di Tosca) when she stabs him.

My father’s favourite… well, I can’t remember his favourite opera aria, but his favourite song from a modern day version of opera was this:

West Side Story – Officer Krupke

I like that one too – I’m psychologically distoibed! The rest of West Side Story was a bit too schmaltzy for me.

Hang on… memory whirring… my father’s favourite opera aria was this one about a homicidal clown…

R. Alagna – Vesti la Giubba – Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci

He always identified with clowns, being a clown, laughing on the surface while in intense pain underneath the over-emphasised smile.

I have a couple of arias, and other opera songs which I adore, but which one hits the inner feeling nail on the head and which I identify with the most?

This one… none of the others quite hit the inner operatic spot as this one…

Una Furtiva Lagrima – Rolando Villazon

from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore.

I couldn’t find a video of it with English subtitles which I liked as much as this performance, so here are the translated lyrics:

A single secret tear
from her eye did spring:
as if she envied all the youths
that laughingly passed her by.
What more searching need I do?
What more searching need I do?
She loves me! Yes, she loves me, I see it. I see it.
For just an instant the beating
of her beautiful heart I could feel!
As if my sighs were hers,
and her sighs were mine!
The beating, the beating of her heart I could feel,
to merge my sighs with hers…
Heavens! Yes, I could die!
I could ask for nothing more, nothing more.
Oh, heavens! Yes, I could, I could die!
I could ask for nothing more, nothing more.
Yes, I could die! Yes, I could die of love.

It’s not highbrow, it’s life expressing itself in a variety of creative ways which we humans find to say what we feel about the tragedy and comedy of life.

“Life is a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think.” ― Molière

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12 thoughts on “Opera is when a guy gets stabbed in the back and, instead of bleeding, he sings.

  1. This made clear to me a lot of my own feelings around opera. I had to leave a friends house one time as she launched into an operatic aria and the energy of it was profoundly disturbing to me, . I wish I could find words for this as its a fine line between expressing truly deep suffering and revelling it in in a masochistic or self gratifying way, one of the reasons I am not drawn to much opera (while admitting my knowledge of it is shallow).

    Thanks so much for sharing the Australian Opera video.. very very funny….Don’t think Id have the energy to make such a list though… sometimes with shitty annoying stuff you just have to turn a blind eye so as not to keep getting caught up in a negative spiral. there’s that fine line again.

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    1. I used to have a strong aversion to opera because of my mother. I haven’t even touched the surface of the drama she created connected to that. But like with all things which get steeped in heavy issues, at some point we have to clear the confusion and find our own vision of it.

      Exploring opera helped me to get out of my mother’s version of reality, because by seeing it through my own eyes, I got rid of the goggles she wanted me to wear so I could only see things her way.

      The stories in opera are fascinating, they show the effect of emotional exaggeration in life. How we can blow a story completely out of proportion because it affects our emotional nature so strongly.

      I love that song from The Mikado and I thought that version was brilliant, made me wish I lived in Australia so I could watch a performance like that. I always love it when something old is updated to incorporate the new in a respectful and fun way!

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      1. Yes, you put it into words. how it is an exaggeration of reality and how we can use that to “feed” and “fuel” emotions, cause there is a point where they can run away and assume a life of their own and take us into a deeply stuck, deep, dark, tragic place, or a frenzy. Not that that is right or wrong but at times that kind of intensity can be a bit averse to me. Mind you I have 5 personal planets in air.

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        1. Music is a sensory experience, and it also affects our brainwaves, so I think sometimes our likes and dislikes of certain types of sound and music may be physical and nothing to do with rational thought. I can’t listen to Jazz. I love the concept of it, and milder Jazz is fine, but the purer form of Jazz makes my brain hurt and I have an anxiety attack and have to get away from the sound. I can’t reason with the reaction. I wonder if that kind of thing is in the chart. Hmmm. You’ve got me thinking about that now 🙂

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  2. I have seen a lot of opera and have not enjoyed much of it – especially Turandot, which I disliked more than any of the others. My mom was quite a good operatic singer although her training was interrupted by WW II and she never really got back to it. My sister also trained but never had much success with it. They both tended to believe that people who dislike opera were complete primitives and they somehow seemed to live their lives through it, too, immersing themselves, as it were, in the melodrama of an opera cast on their personal stage. They were/are both very controlling people (my mom passed many years ago) who had varying issues with depression and seriously bad tempers; at one point my sister was diagnosed with manic-depression. Of the two, my mom was much more functional. My sister is incredibly difficult to deal with and most of us family members don’t have much to do with her any more. I’ve often wondered about the possible connections and possible narcissism, too.

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    1. Turandot is the one with the annoying princess who sets riddles for her suitors – sort of a Narc’ I guess, making a quest out of love and relationship 😉 – they used to use one of the arias from it – Nessun Dorma – as a football anthem of sorts over here in the UK.

      My mother trained in opera but then she abandoned it for typical Narc’ reasons, but had many alternate versions of why she was unable to pursue that path, it was usually someone else’s fault.

      Narcissist do tend to suffer from intense bouts of depression, they are usually triggered by one of their fantasies falling apart. The raging is often used to alleviate internal stress, and sometimes acts as a way for them to avoid plunging into or to climb out of one of their dark moods because they feel lighter after a rage.

      Did your relationship with your ex remind you in any way of your relationship with your mother and sister? Is your sister older or younger than you?

      When someone starts to remind me of my parents, I start to pay attention to see if they might be narcissistic – sometimes it’s hard to tell if it is NPD or just a high dose of narcissism in a person.

      Many NPD traits can be found in people who don’t have NPD, someone with NPD usually has all of the traits. And NPD overlaps with other disorders.

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      1. It’s interesting that you describe them as feeling lighter after a rage – I noticed your use of this description before. Both my mom and sister seem(ed) to function that way – it’s like they hold back and hold back until they can’t do it any more and then they go off in all directions. My ex-narcissist was always ranting about something and he suffered intensely from depression, as well. As I think about it, there are notable similarities between him and my sister, in particular. They are both very unpredictable, extremely bad with money and prone to flopping their opinions from one instant to the next on every subject from the very mundane to the very important. My sister, who is 15 years older than me, also tells varying tales about why whatever it is hasn’t worked – it’s never her responsibility. As I said before, my mom was much more functional, so the similarities seem to be more between my ex-narc and my sister. I have frequently used the word “unstable” to characterize them both, but I would not use that descriptor for my mom. Thanks for discussing this with me. 🙂

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        1. Thank you, I love our conversations you give me much food for thought 🙂

          That observation of the lightness after rage comes mostly from observing my parents. They seemed to experience euphoria after a tantrum, but their rages had to be directed at and dumped on someone who was not also a narcissist for there to be a release of internal stressful pressure build-up. When they fought with each other their frustration grew.

          When my parents fought I knew that afterwards my mother would seek me out to unleash her frustration. My mother preferred to keep her outbursts private behind closed doors so she could maintain her saintly image in public. My father usually chose to make a very public display of his rage like a fireworks show. Both of them always seemed to feel better afterwards, happy, often playful and up for some fun. And they both would wonder out loud what was wrong with everyone else and why was everyone being such a party pooper.

          My mother was convinced that I suffered from ‘black moods’ as she called them when she told other people about them. Those ‘black moods’ were due to her having unleashed hell on me, then she felt better and dismissed her part in my mood as she was full of the joys of spring and I was bringing her down with my mood which had nothing to do with her and what she had done.

          What they do does make sense, it’s sort of healthy for them, it’s just not healthy for the rest of us.

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      2. Ursula. I just wanted to ask you about the rages, as at times when I read this stuff on NPD I get disturbed because in the past in relationships rage has come out and I had a lot of rage towards my mother. How can you differentiate full blown NPD from just suffering from narcissistic wounding? I feel ashamed to even expose this, as it must be hard to be on the receiving end of a rage. Any insights?

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        1. Are you saying that you were the one expressing the rage and you’re worried that your rage expressed was similar to an NPD rage-tantrum? People with NPD are not the only ones who have rages, so it’s not a sign of NPD or even narcissistic wounding.

          Rage is rage.

          Many people who rage are blowing off steam. Perhaps they’ve been holding something in for a long time and the internal pressure has built up and they either let the steam out and explode or keep it in and their head implodes frying all their circuits.

          Yes, it is hard to be on the receiving end of it, but much depends on the situation, on the person who is expressing rage and on the person on the receiving end of it. Everything must be assessed within context.

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  3. My mum had a squeaking voice too:)…it’s funny how this kind of music can stir different feelings.Everybody seems to love opera, but me, with a few exceptions as Dido and Aeneas or Don Giovanni but I haven’t got an Italian soul after all and I sulk at the way Italian composers portrayed women: crying, betrayed, hysterical creatures always longing for a man who couldn’t care less and enjoyed his power and charm in spite of his poise, plenty of N perverts on stage! I do love your Molière quote. Do you like coffee too?(I don’t)Then you are Italian bred in the bone! In any case music is uplifting and it can change our mood, help to concentrate, to feel, to ponder..

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    1. In opera the men don’t get portrayed well either 😉 it’s all about the drama of life and the insanity of humans, be they male or female. It’s designed to entertain the mind, heart and soul, maybe make us think, or just to give us a break from our own lives and dramas.

      You have an ocean soul, it belongs to no nation, it is free from nationality, one place can’t own it and it moves wherever it needs to go.

      Have you read or seen Le Malade Imaginaire? Kind of about a narcissist in some ways.

      I don’t really have roots anywhere other than on this planet as a whole, I see myself as an Earthling who explores the wonders, treasures, cultures and experiences of my home planet, I absorb certain aspects of each nation in which I have lived and have visited because I feel that that is part of the reason for living in and visiting a certain place at a certain time. Some places keep you there until you learn what they have to teach you. Some places impart something to you without ever having to visit them at all, there are many ways to travel to and visit a place, not all of them involve physical movement.

      My soul is of the Earth, and is well aware of the fact that it is a tiny speck hurtling through one universe amongst many other universe 🙂

      I drink coffee, tea, and whatever else is available when I’m thirsty or in a mood for it. I’m not a coffee drinker of the kind who orders a caffe stretto at the local coffee bar 😉

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