The Paris Review

Opera in a Post-Weinstein World

From the Welsh National Opera’s staging of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.

These days, we hear soloists, ensembles, and choruses of women singing out against abusers. But the courage expressed by these female choirs has made me question my enjoyment of another kind of music. I’m talking, of course, about opera. In this modern moment, it’s difficult not to hear opera as the highly aestheticized echo of our deeply sordid reality, a harmonization of voices wrung from women’s suffering. Louder and clearer than ever, I’m hearing opera as critics like Catherine Clément long have: as the undoing of women by men.

From an early age, my daughter (let’s call her O. to protect her privacy until she’s ready to tell her own story in the way she is her favorite opera. It used to serenade us on our daily commute to her nursery. She especially loved the children’s chorus—“Taratata, taratata!”—as they imitated the marching soldiers bugling and fifing out the old guard for the new. We even watched Francesco Rosi’s cinematic montage of bullfighting and lust in the dust of Seville. Then, one day, she asked me, “If Don Jose loves Carmen so much, why does he kill her?”

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