Opera can be embarrassing. The music is wonderful, the poetry is 19th Century sentimentality. How can you listen to lines like "Oh sweet kisses, oh languid caresses and I, quivering, unveiled those beautiful shapes!!!" without wincing?
Placido Domingo, in a recent Great Performances production, talked about singing Tosca. Why he loved it. It's the emotion, he said. Lines like "languid caresses" bother him not at all. He gets it. He gets into it. Listen!
And the stars were shining… the earth
was fragrant… the garden gate
creaked… and a footstep brushed the sand.
She entered, fragrant,
and fell into my arms ...
Oh sweet kisses, oh languid caresses
and I, quivering,
unveiled those beautiful shapes!!!
Disappeared forever my love's dream
The hour is gone...
And I, desperately, die!
And I've never loved so much my life.
Similarly, Hugh Laurie, in another Great Performances offering, talked about why he loves New Orleans music. Heartfelt emotion, the deep emotion of the blues.
I went down to the St. James Infirmary
I saw my baby there,
Streched out on a cold white table,
So sweet, so cold, so fair.
So Let her go, let her go, God bless her;
Wherever she may be
She may search this wide world over
but she'll never find a sweet man like me.
I remember having my heart broken. I remember the anguish. The memory is embarrassing. How could I have been so foolish as to have imagined a true love? How could I have allowed my heart to slip onto my sleeve? I am so sophisticated now, so immune to heartbreak. Nothing can touch me anymore.
But if I'm going to write, I best remember it. I'd best let it touch me again. Because if Domingo didn't let it touch him, how could he sing E lucevan le stelle like that? If Laurie didn't let it touch him, how could he pour his heart out into his fingers? If I don't write with heartfelt joy and anguish, who's going to care?