Personal Politics in the World of Opera

El siguiente texto fue escrito por Wisława Szymborska y traducido al inglés en 2002. Se refiere a la segunda edición del libro The Opera Handbook, escrito por Jozef Kanski.

“Unfortunately, I can’t go into more detail about Il trovatore, even though I’ve sung it many times, since I’m still not exactly sure what it’s about…” The famous Viennese tenor Leo Slezak makes this confession in his memoirs. And oh, what a heavy stone has fallen from my heart! So it’s not just me, out there in the audience, who can’t always figure out who’s singing against whom, why the man who for some reason is dressed up as a servant suddenly turns out to be a ruddy, buxom maiden, and why this unusually well-nourished maiden should faint at the sight of another, considerably older maiden while calling her her darling, dearest long-lost little daughter. So it’s not just me—the people up on stage don’t know what’s going on either! It turns out that opera guides like this one are required on both sides of the footlights. I don’t need to advertise this book; the first edition vanished like water in the sand. I’ll say only that it covers two hundred operas from Monteverdi to the 1960s. Each composer gets a brief biography, followed by a detailed summary of the opera’s plot, and finally a quick discussion of its music. I can’t say that I got through all two hundred operas in one sitting. But I did read all the lists of characters with their vocal types. A strict personal politics prevails in the world of opera. Family relationships are prescribed by codes as inviolable as those governing primitive tribes. A soprano must be a bass’s daughter, a baritone’s wife, and a tenor’s lover. A tenor may neither generate an alto nor copulate with a contralto. A baritone lover is a rarity, and it’s best if he just settles for a mezzo. And mezzo-sopranos, in turn, should watch out for tenors—fate casts them most often as “the other woman” or in the even sorrier role of the soprano’s best friend. The one bearded woman in the history of opera (see Stravinsky’s A Rake’s Progress) is a mezzo-soprano and naturally knows no happiness. Apart from fathers, basses ordinarily play cardinals, the powers of darkness, prison functionaries, and, in one case, the director of an insane asylum. No conclusion follows from these comments. I admire opera, which is not real life, and I admire life, which is at times true opera.