Drama without drama

What is it with opera? It so rarely conveys to us real human beings in real human situations. What it offers instead is an image with the status of a metonym. When things on stage are going well the world is weak, the metonym strong. We don’t believe in the people, but we do the moment.

Opera must communicate this way for its music to bear effectively the extravagant emotional burden that the form aspires to. I am talking here about the traditional operatic canon more than I am any contemporary repertoire, for there various theatres have made eclectic what was once, in this core affiliatory respect, a unity.

When the music is doing its job, as in musical theatre, hardly convincing contours of emotion, thinly carved conflicts, dramatically undeserved redemptions, and unearned love scenes melt away in the burnished theatre of music, synthesising with melody and theme for an unmatched intensity. The missing drama is in the music. When it is not, or, when it cannot, when the cleavages of narrative or character are too strong, that whole appears as a drama without drama, a spectacle, a relic of a very different sensibility to that of our own. I felt both of these extremes at this week’s revival of Jonathan Miller’s well-received staging of La bohème. Read my full review here.

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