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