“Everyone knows that opera is about sex.”

The idea for this post came in April, and once again, it is based on a citation of my favorite article: „Ruggiero’s Deceptions, Cherubino’s Distractions” by Margaret Reynolds.
In the beginning, Reynolds argues that opera is about sex. She writes “Everyone knows that opera is about sex. It is no accident that the opera house is furnished with velvet plush, gilded mirrors, naked cherubs, and powdered footmen, for these are the trappings of the brothel, and we go to the opera house for sex.
(“Jeder weiß, dass es in der Oper um Sex geht. Es ist kein Zufall, dass Opernhäuser mit Samtplüsch möbliert sind, mit vergoldeten Spiegeln, nackten Engelchen und gepuderten Lakaien – den Insignien des Bordells – und wir gehen wegen des Sex in die Oper.”)

The architecture of the Giessen opera house is rather a simple one, but when I was in Wiesbaden in April, I thought – alright, let’s examine the evidence:

Naked cherubs and gilded stuff:

Red velvet plush (basically everywhere):

Then, Reynolds goes on: “Heterosexuals go [to the opera house], I suppose, for the large passions. You can see them on Saturday nights at La Bohème. Middle-aged businessmen in suits, who never lived in garrets or wrote a line of poetry, weep for the imagined romance of their lost youth. Their wives, all red fingernails and tight little dresses, regret the passing of their day as Mimi but comfort themselves by identifying with the full bloom of Musetta. […]
And lesbians? Why do they go to the opera? Because where else can you see two women making love in a public place?
(“Heterosexuelle gehen, so nehme ich an, wegen der großen Leidenschaften [in die Oper]. Man kann sie am Samstagabend in La Bohème sehen. Männer mittleren Alters im Anzug, die nie in einer Mansarde lebten oder eine Zeile Poesie geschrieben haben, weinen der erträumten Liebe ihrer verlorenen Jugend nach. Ihre Ehefrauen, alle mit roten Fingernägeln und kurzen, engen Kleidern, bedauern wie Mimi die Vergänglichkeit ihres Lebens, finden aber Trost in der Identifikation mit der vollen Blüte Musettas.[…] Und Lesben? Warum gehen sie in die Oper? Weil – wo sonst kann man sehen, wie zwei Frauen in der Öffentlichkeit Liebe machen?”)

As for the women making love in a public place: we had gone to Wiesbaden to see Der Rosenkavalier, so I guess Reynolds made a point here.

As for the heterosexuals: Well, I never actually saw La Bohème, but when I look to the audience, the term “middle-aged” could fit well.
But “middle-aged” didn’t really fit to the Wiesbaden audience. When I looked down to the orchestra seats, I saw what we call “grey helmet brigade” in church. I wondered if they had come for the sex.
Well, you never know…

Citations: Reynolds, M (1995): Ruggiero’s Deceptions, Cherubino’s Distractions. In: Blackmer, C. E. and Smith, P. J. (Ed.): En travesti: Women, gender subversion, opera. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 132–151.

One thought on ““Everyone knows that opera is about sex.”

  1. Pingback: Couldn’t Octavian get Susanna? | Schratiblog.

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