Italian opera

One of the European women and I developed a friendship, which led her to introduce me to Italian opera. We left by separate trains and met at the theatre. We sat together as she tried to explain to me each plot and development. Well, I had problems. First, there was this little fat guy with platform shoes shouting forever his everlasting love for this giant of a lady, from whose bosom you could launch a few war planes.

Then this lady hit what was referred to as a head-note. Ye gods and little fishes – as one of the Malayans used to say. If God had meant the female head to produce such sounds, her head would (I am sure) be shaped differently and appropriately. Perhaps not all female heads – that would be a terrible tragedy – only those destined to become (if society really had to have them) Italian-opera singers.

What was worse was the dying. Well, she took a long time dying, becoming weaker and weaker in the process, but becoming noisier and noisier at the same time. Unreal! So, what is Italian opera all about? Music? Some of it was actually very musical, like the introductions and interval music. If one could only turn off the voices and still enjoy the music, some of those other parts might be worth saving too.

I think I did myself in when I said that the best part of the whole season – by a visiting European company – was when the elephants took the stage (they must have been locally employed). I also said that some ancient Italians must be laughing their heads off in whatever dimension their astral selves are cavorting in to think that they have sold a pup, not only to their own people but also to all the Western world. What they sold seems to me, in places, to be cries of some particularly noisy females in the throes of orgasm (half their luck) as high art. My friend from the guest-house was an educated and cultured lady; she tolerated my low-brow posture, and we remained friends.

In subsequent years, another female tried to educate me about the beauty of opera. During our friendship, one day she asked me to buy her The Magic Flute. Not knowing what it was I was supposed to buy, I went to the instrument counter of a music store. That was nearly the end of the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

(This is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out,’ published in 1997. This extract highlights the cultural impacts when East met West. The irony of life is that I did marry an Anglo-Saxon opera singer in the making. I was thus exposed to all of the great singers through recordings, some of whose voices I could recognise decades later!)