Wednesday 10 June 2020

Writing: the opera


It was late as I left the opera house and I felt constricted by the tragedy of everything I’d seen and only half-understood. I liked to listen to proper music as often as I could because it made me feel older and more in control. For minutes and sometimes hours afterwards, I would sink into the kind of absorbed stillness that some people must feel when they are doing crosswords or filling in spreadsheets. 

The best music I’d ever paid to listen to had been in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, before I knew the history of the place or the dubious reputation of the composer. I enjoyed the way the violins toyed with each other, rising and falling in patterns that I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe, before slowing down and fading away like sleep. 

As I climbed onto the bus to take me back to town, I tried to grapple with the strained feeling in my throat, hating to admit that father/daughter stories always got to me like this. Two white-haired men sat down in the seats behind me and started discussing the cost of putting on the Ring Cycle and whether or not that justified the price they had paid for their concessionary tickets. In the row in front, a pale woman sank down next to her handbag and cried into the sleeve of her shirt. I could see her reflection in the bus window but I tried not to meet her watery eyes in case she felt embarrassed.    

The seats of the bus were red and orange, crosshatched in thick streaks, with yellow headrests. The engine started and we turned slowly out of the car park. A few of the overhead windows were open, letting in the sound of churning gravel.

I thought about the times I had cried in public places but realised it might be easier to list the places I hadn’t cried. 

The pink summer evening streaked past. The men were discussing travel cards. The woman continued to cry. Someone coughed at the back of the bus and someone else closed one of the windows, shutting in the air. 

I thought back over the opera and wished that I’d remembered enough German to read between the top-notes of loss and despair. Admittedly, I enjoyed going back over each scene and putting in whatever words I wanted, but I couldn’t help but feel guilty about this habit of retrospective rewriting, as if I were sacrificing intellectual nuance for something trashy and indulgent.  

I’d only had time to look up half of the synopsis beforehand, up to the part where the daughter disobeys her father and agrees to help his son. All in all this seemed like something a father should want, regardless of political dealings, but I knew the feeling of being pulled in too many directions, and I felt a twinge of sympathy as he wept and put his daughter to sleep on a big, grey rock.  

Men often cried in literary settings, but I had only ever seen my dad crying when he had the flu. I tried to picture him tearing up at a piece of art - perhaps something nostalgic, end-of-life music, tinged with age and the almost-dead. I imagined him on the stage, limply holding out his arms as he doomed me to an eternity of fire, and hoped that I wouldn’t comply as easily as the daughters of fiction do.

L x
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