Friday 23 March 2018

I hear the fat lady singing

Having always thought opera ridiculous and gardening dull, Emily Hourican finds a worrying new love of both

Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman
Emily Hourican

Emily Hourican

I have always wondered if I have what might be called 'soul'. You know, an instinctive understanding of the fine and beautiful things in life; something untaught, unforced, even unexpected? Well, there is, according to Hollywood, one sure way to find out: opera - the fastest way of sorting the exquisite from the uncouth.

Take Pretty Woman. How does the film establish the fact that, although Julia Roberts is a hooker, she is also a person of quality and natural refinement? By taking her to the opera, where Richard Gere's personality-disordered industrialist patronisingly explains that some people just don't get this most rarefied of art forms. The lights go down, and, there on screen, from the opening notes of La Traviata, Julia Roberts is gripped, engrossed, living every moment as if it were her own story; laughing at the jokes, her tears rolling down her face at the tragic ending.

Revolting, really, but very much on my mind as I headed off for my own first opera experience recently. Puccini's Madame Butterfly (I suspect this is entry-level stuff; like Swan Lake for ballet amateurs). Now, as someone who veers towards the naturalistic, even gritty, in films and theatre, I have always presumed that the sight of people screeching about love and betrayal would make me laugh in mocking disbelief.

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