Feeling the Forbidden
Where are the passions we are denied?
On Music Theatre
15th June, 2003
We shouldn't have bought another round, fifteen minutes before time. But we knew that then, and still did, and
now we were late. We ran down the street, up the stairs, and into the auditorium with bare minutes to spare. Me, Fiona, and her boyfriend
Me and Kevin knew what to do. We turned to Fi.
"You get the drinks in. We'll find the seats."
It was nearly time and Fiona wasn't back. I felt concerned. I'd pinned a lot on those drinks. I balanced the disaster of Fiona
missing the first act, against me not getting a half time gin and tonic, and decided to hang tough. She'd figure something out.
Worst came to worst, I could blame Kevin.
The theatre went dark. The curtain came up, the orchestra struck the first chord, and we were transported
elsewhere. To love - hate - anger - passion...
Tosca had begun.
Here's the question: a project manager has asked me for a prediction of how long various
unknown tasks will take. I have no information about these tasks other than the name. Therefore
my predictions will be utterly meaningless, but the project plan can't be submitted without them.
I make up some numbers, based on previous jobs. The project manager rejects my made up numbers
because they don't fit the shape of what he wants the plan to be. I have to make up some more fictitious
numbers, based neither on the future, nor the past, but purely on my estimation of the manager's estimation, of what a nice shape might be.
Now, should I lay waste to this building, drive the inhabitants into a flaming pit and race
around town on horseback with the manager's head on a stick?
My instincts say, Yes!... Prudence says no.
Another example. I attend a respectable dinner party. Halfway through we realise our lives
cannot possibly go on unless we have a competition to see who can spray the most whipped cream from a
can into their mouth and hold it there the longest. Drama, you see, we needed this moment of drama.
Human existence is bland. It is all very well for beardless boys on Pop Idol
to groan about love and passion, but after all the dust has settled, surfaces cleaned,
and implements put away, we need peaceful nothingness in which to change the nappies and dig the garden.
As every TV soap opera teaches us, extreme emotions - love, hate, jealousy, revenge - lead to chaotic consequences, severely
disruptive of the basic utility of society. Unexpected, fully-grown sisters, bodies under patios, and
The drama having been extracted from life, so we fight to put it back in. Whipped cream and
heads on sticks.
We were born for the hunt, after all, to smear our faces with the blood of the first kill
and sing to the full moon. It's not our fault we were born three thousand years too late.
And anyone who attends one of my barbecue nights will learn that some traditions are not dead.
I despise bland music. I hate all New Age, light jazz, folk masses, and pretty boys singing about mushy sentiments
- all carrying the message that "It's Nice to be Nice to Babies Sometimes". I knew that already.
I like the Pixies. I like Marilyn Manson. And I like modern opera.
Mention the word 'opera' and wait to see how long before someone says 'fat shrieking
women', and maybe 'Nazis' and then need
to go for quiet lie down before they go onto 'heaving bosoms'.
How our passions can run riot in the music! When Tosca stands, bloody knife in hand, over the body of Scarpia, spitting her
curse, Questo è il bacio di Tosca!
we stand there too! For a second, we have our murderous revenge on the brutes of our world.
Take that, project manager! This is for you, whoever installed climate control in my office circa 1982!
But there's more than simple sense gratification in great music-theatre.
We can learn from it: ideas,
feelings, experiences, that we might never have discovered for ourselves.
This is why I hate bland music, empty chords and beardless boys chanting
about loves they're too young to understand! What can they teach us
about anything? Where's the edge, where's the education of the senses?
Where can we temper ourselves in the fires of the passions we are denied?
Death in Love
Tristan und Isolde. A moment of fearful resolution. Tristan is bound to deliver Isolde to his liege lord, Mark.
But Tristan and Isolde are terribly, destructively, in love. He cannot betray his lord... he cannot betray her... in the madness
and desperation of passion, torn between love and duty, they begin to fantasise about death, romantic death together.
This is a passion which noone should want to experience in reality, but here, in this moment and this story, we can, for a while, learn what it might
be like. So sterben wir... ohne wachen...liebestod
Passion grows into ecstacy, becomes monstrous and all devouring. Love, the destroyer.
Tristan is a complete work of drama. We understand Mark, as he mourns both the
loss of his bride and his beloved knight. We know why he
is trapped by duty. We sense the anger of his knights at the betrayal of their lord. We listen as
the music tears itself apart - just as Tristan descends into madness, from a decaying tonic to a complete
chromatic storm of notes. We hear the terrible beauty of untrammeled love, and we also learn the
awful price that love can make a mortal couple pay. No pop idol can do that.
Back to Normality, Thankfully
We watched as Scarpia made a terrible oath in the middle of Catholic mass
to steal Tosca from the man she loved, having destroyed him first. A moment of demonic pride
and selfish beauty.
Then the curtain fell to a dark moment of contemplation on
all we'd learned.
Later, we found Fi.
"Where were you?" - Kevin.
"Where's our drinks?" - Me.