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Johan Persson

Fragments of a(n opera) lover's discourse

Love is all over OperaVision!

Recently we found a copy of a favourite essay about love, Roland Barthes’ Fragments of a lover’s discourse*. The book contains a list of ‘fragments’, some of which come from literature and some from his own philosophical thoughts, of a lover's point of view. We decided to try and match some of the arias available on OperaVision with love fragments, and predictably we found plenty – love, after all, is the most operatic of feelings!

 

To love love – Un dì, felice, eterea (La traviata)

'ANNULMENT: Explosion of language during which the subject manages to annul the loved object under the volume of love itself: by a specifically amorous perversion, it is love the subject loves, not the object.' (cit.)

Is Alfredo Germont really already in love with Violetta Valéry when he first meets her, or is he in love with the idea of love itself? In the end of the first act of La traviata, we see world-wary Violetta making gentle fun of her young suitor, but in the end she succumbs to his passion. Love conquers all...

'One day, you, happy, ethereal, appeared in front of me; and ever since, trembling, I lived from unknown love. That love is the pulse of the whole universe; mysterious and proud, it is torture and delight to the heart.'

Alfredo Germont – LA TRAVIATA, Act 1

Reminiscing love – E lucevan le stelle (Tosca)

'REMEMBRANCE: Happy and/or tormenting remembrance of an object, a gesture, a scene, linked to the loved being and marked by the intrusion of the imperfect tense into the grammar of the lover’s discourse.' (cit.)

Mario Cavaradossi reminisces about his happy times with the singer Tosca, while he waits for his execution on the roof of Castel Sant'Angelo.  The past is gone, and so is the sweetness of the tender encounters with Floria Tosca. The stark contrast between the present and the past tears Cavaradossi apart. 

 

'Oh, sweet kisses and languorous caresses, while trembling I stripped the beautiful form of its veils! Forever, my dream of love has vanished. That moment has fled, and I die in desperation, and I never before loved life so much!' 

Cavaradossi – TOSCA, Act 3

Stolen kisses – Mes longs cheveux (Pelléas et Mélisande)

'CONTACTS: The figure refers to any interior discourse provoked by a furtive contact with the body of the desired being.'  (cit.)

The illicit love between Pelléas and his sister-in-law Mélisande never materialises in Debussy’s opera, and the viewer –  as well as Golaud, the rightful husband  –   is left wondering if their passion is ever consummated. In one of the most suspense-filled scenes of Pelléas and Mélisande, Mélisande's hair engulfs him from a window above and Pélleas holds it and wraps it around his neck.

'Look, look, I am kissing your hair .... All pain has left me here in the midst of your hair... Do you hear my kisses creep along your hair?... They are climbing all the length of your hair .... Every single hair must bring you one...'

Pelléas - PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE, Act 3

The world in awe – Winterstürme / Du bist der Lenz (die Walküre)

'DISREALITY: Sentiment of absence and withdrawal of reality experienced by the amorous subject, confronting the world.' (cit.)

After Sieglinde offers him escape from her husband Hunding as well as a sword which is stuck in a tree outside, Siegmund compares his love for Sieglinde to the beauty of springtime. Sieglinde reciprocates his love, even though he is her twin brother.

'My heart leapt with joy when you first looked at me. I had never seen anyone but strangers, and everything around me was friendless. It was as everything that happened was happening to someone else, not me.'

Sieglinde – DIE WALKÜRE Act 1

To err and to forgive – Contessa Perdono (Le nozze di Figaro)  

'MONSTROUS: The subject suddenly realizes that he is imprisoning the loved object in a net of tyrannies : he has been pitiable, now he becomes monstrous.' (cit.)

Ashamed and remorseful, the Count asks the Countess for forgiveness for trying to seduce Susanna. The Countess, kinder than him, forgives her husband and all are content. 

COUNT: Countess forgive me!
COUNTESS: I am more tender-hearted, I do forgive you. 
ALL: Thus happiness is assured. Only love can end this crazy day in happiness and joy!

Count and Countess of Almaviva – LE NOZZE DI FIGARO Act 4

*Roland., Barthes, (2010). A lover's discourse : fragments. Howard, Richard, 1929-, Koestenbaum, Wayne. (Pbk. ed ed.). New York, N.Y.: Hill and Wang.