LEPORELLO: Who's dead, you or the old man?
DON GIOVANNI: What an asinine question! The old man!
LEPORELLO: Bravo! Two deeds of derring-do: force
the daughter, kill the father.
Mozart & da Ponte
Peace and joy, Camper, and welcome once again to Your Uncle Jerry’s Opera Corner.
As you know, Uncle Jerry is besieged by campers looking for wisdom from the opera.
“What would Susanna do in my situation?” they ask.
“Would suicide by hara-kiri hurt worse than poison?”
“What’s that opera with the dragon?”
“My bros are coming over to watch the Vikings, and for the soundtrack we can’t decide between Gianni Schicchi and Boris Godunov.”
First of all, my friend, Schicchi is way too short for a football game, but if the Vikings are playing, yes, go with a comedy. Avoid the Russians. (One would think of Wagner for the Vikings, but No: that kind of gravitas is way beyond them.)
But why is opera, for so many young persons, their go-to source of wisdom and titillation? An excellent question, Camper, and one that in recent weeks has been much on my mind.
Let’s look at it from their side: If today’s teens want only splattered primal urges and supernatural creatures, they can get those from Game of Thrones, Grand Theft Auto, any Sigma Chi house, and the dark side of the internet. If they want only an orgy of sublime musical artistry, they have an iCloud full of Santana, Bach, and Sara Tavares.
But where oh where can a Millennial camper find both the absurd degrading archetypal violence they love, alongside the delicate nuance of uplifting human pathos they crave? I think we know the answer, don’t we, Camper? It’s all there in Don Giovanni.
You wouldn’t think that a nerd like Mozart would even know a story about a wealthy sex addict—a story that begins with date rape and a sword fight, and ends with the nobleman dragged to hell after the world’s most horrible dinner party. But this is the beauty of opera. Opera distills life into a finite set of clarified yet profoundly gloomy meanings:
You will never have any.
Infanticide doesn't really work out.
The gods are clueless.
Don't do what you're thinking. And most of all,
Grief and joy, ecstasy and pain become equally beautiful when you hear them like a melody slipping from the pale lips of your dying lover.
Joy and peace.