I have been becoming a bit of an opera fag of late, thanks to a certain delightful and generous addict most willing to entice others into this magical world by way of cheap tickets and charming company. Have not quite worked out what it is that appeals so much—the costumes are astounding of course, I am in awe of the set design, and I adore the whole theatre of getting dressed up and drinking champagne at interval, but I can get all of that in other forums. Most of the plots are, frankly, very silly from what I can tell, or perhaps I have seen too many Somnambulists and Lakmes and not enough Salomes?, so they are not really the drawcard (in fact, sometimes I have to just ignore the surtitles so as not to want to throw things at the stage).
Which leaves the singing. Perhaps curiously, this has previously been one of the lesser drawcards to me, yes, I know what that sounds like thankyou very much, but now, well, whilst I still don’t ‘get’ it there is something somewhere there that intrigues me. The technical stuff and the language for it is beyond me at this point, I can’t really tell a trill from a coloratura, or of I can, probably can’t tell you which is called what, but that’s not really the appeal either. Its more the ‘body’ stuff, some point of transformations and transferences, of ingestion and incorporation…
So of course, I went a-hunting to see what had been written about such things. I put out a call or two, and within hours the kindly folk on the Mad Scene, Bel Canto etc, had supplied me with some fabulous references to follow up. Such as Wayne Koestenbaum’s The Queen’s Throat, which is not only fabulously named but has gems like this:
A singer’s voice sets up vibrations and resonances in the listener’s body. First, there are the physiological sensations we call ‘hearing.’ Second, there are the gestures of response with which the listener mimics the singer, expresses physical sympathy, appreciation, or exultation: shudder, gasp, sigh; holding the body motionless, relaxing the shoulders, stiffening the spine. Third, the singer has presence, an expressive relationship to her body—and presence is contagious. I catch it. The dance of sound waves on the tympanum, and the sigh I exhale in sympathy with the singer, persuade me that I have a body—if only by analogy, if only a second-best copy of the singer’s body. I’m a lemming, imprinted by the soprano, my existence an aftereffect of her crescendo. (p42)
Ah, such things make Madame Moselle such a happy little poppet!