Puccini and Balzac


The music of Chico Chica seems a world away from Opera. But on reflection there are similarities. We sing in different languages (though not Italian), and our songs have a certain dramatic element, but for me, Opera has always been mysterious foreign country – until last week that is. An opera-loving friend told me I should go at least once in my life, if only to hear the sound of the male tenor. So I went to see Puccinni’s La Bohéme at the Royal Opera House. My teenage daughter, like many of her generation, has a very eclectic and open-minded attitude to music. I hear her play Dubstep, Mantovani and Benny Goodman one after the other. This is in such contrast to the tribalism of my youth. So last Summer, on a whim, I bought the tickets for her eighteenth birthday which was last week.

Now this is where Balzac comes in, and why I think great writers are such important guides for us as we try to weave our way through this mysterious journey called life. You see, I was thinking of being even more generous and giving her both tickets so she could go with a friend of her own age. But then I read Balzac’s Père Goriot. The book is a lesson in parenthood and how not to live your life through your children and how, by enjoying life, you’re setting the best example. The plot of Père Goriot *is a little like King Lear – Goriot’s two daughters are unhappily married to rich men. He watches their glamorous lives from a distance – the carriages, the dresses, the jewellery and of course, the opera. By the end of the book, he dies, and the daughters are too busy with their lives to come and visit him. Very sad.

And so I went to the Royal Opera House and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know the music that well but the plot is very easy to follow and I have to say, I found the female voices the most moving – the tenors seemed less natural.


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