“The Supreme Art Form”

Roger Scruton nominates opera, hailing it as “not so much a representation of human life as a redemption of it. For dramatic music can rescue our feelings from their randomness, and vindicate our immortal longings in the face of chaos and decay”:

The complaint was already made in Monteverdi’s Venice that singing detracts from the realism of the stage. The verismo of Verdi was a response to this complaint, an attempt to tie the melodic moment to the particular person in a believable situation — and no one can doubt his success in this. But Wagner had another and more persuasive response to those who dismissed his operas as mere fairytales. By lifting everything — character, setting, emotion and gesture — into the imagined space of music, he believed, we achieve another and higher kind of realism. Words and music develop together, and the purpose of both is drama.

Opera conceived as a sequence of arias, loosely joined by recitative, thereafter disappeared. Even Italian composers quietly adopted the Wagnerian ideal, so that by the time of Puccini it was universally accepted that operas should be through-composed, each act working towards its climax by largely musical means, with the musical material constantly reworked in accordance with the logic of the drama. …

Many people have an opera buried within them: so at least I believe. For the inner life is essentially operatic. It sings to itself in many voices, and we strive in our dreams and meditations to bring those voices into line, to turn discord to concord, and conflict to resolution. Precisely because the characters in opera sing their passions, we sense that these passions are really cosmic forces, whose scope is far greater than the mere individuals who represent them. Through opera our inner life is summoned from hidden regions and resolved before us on the stage.

(Video: Overture of Verdi’s La Traviata performed at The Royal Opera House in London in 1994)