Opheliaphobia and Revolutionism

Some Intuitions from Romantic Opera

Photo Raphael Adelheim as Hamlet (Russia, undated)

What does that unforgettable ditching tell us? Why is DG Rosetti’s “Ophelia drowned” so often shown?

Men seek to change the world, women to preserve it
Men will always seek knowledge, though never sure of “of what”: women are much surer of the of “what”, care much less whether they can explain it
Men seek to act out heroism, women to protect them from the consequences
Men who most need love most fear it; women who offer them love are ever their victims, slain in the fog

These are not proverbs culled from encycopedia of wisdom, they are just my reflections on what so much repeats itself in the narratives of 19th century opera. And of course novels and plays as well, and the films that come down to us from them.

Faust, Tosca, Madame Butterfly
Heathcliff, Jane Eyre, Rebecca
“Echo”/Sanmao/Chen Ping in”Tales from the Sahara”, her life (you won’t know this one… )
Sonya in Crime and Punishment
James Dean in Rebel without a Cause
Karen Blixen v. Redford in “Out of Africa” – and of course

– more:
and one that says it best in all regards : Das Leben der Anderen (2006), the story of a nec plus ultra self-sold E. German hack playwright who’s job is to spout Party ideals, building his rep on the back of a drug addicted starlet (the hera-lot Christa-Maria Sieland) but then consigning her by neglect then retreat – to a suicide of malcomprehension – her attempt to save him from exposure as a MS-smuggler backfires and she is from then on the the finger-pointer. (Odd that all my friends seem to ignore this side of the Hero’s Heroism… those who bring down Walls and Tyrannies are saints, and saints are lovers of humanity, no?)

or (let’s go back), Tirez sur le Pianist (Truffaut, 1960?): a talented but one-in-a-bushel pianist (Charles Aznavour) who is hopelessly shy and knows it gets a break, a link-up, a recital series at the Salon Pleyel, rave reviews, when, by accident, he discovers that it is his (ex) waitress wife’s (Thérèse Saroyan)’s bistro-liaison with Herr Lars Schmeel (ch); the impresario, that got him his make-or-break audition: his rage drives our to throw herself to death over the louvred widow sill, corpse splattered on the sidewalk; he is seemingly but only seemingly repentant (self-penalizing), for he he then repeats the same exercise when (yet another) waitress – “Lena” – rescues him from a go-down where he faces death or worse for “stealing” her affections from an ogric boss whom he has had to knife; but then the trail ends when she (too) dies trying to save him from a gangster ambush which she sees in waiting, he not.,,, blindness, blindness

It seems a drama that has and always will be with us, or the the “us” who are educated enough to be vane, or vane enough to be educated. A script which we always have needed, in one way or another saving us just in time from disbanding, from inescapable self-imprisonment, from crash and burn by our secret desire.


Or does it? Hasn’t this pact, this unstated but indispensible understanding, this ideal of how jittery male but also jittery too-forward female youth learns not to fear intimacy and perhaps therewith settle into partnership – (never quite perfect but a structure we all could live with) – hasn’t this too gone by the wayside, pushed into the gutter by treble-incoming, ideologically supercharged feminism (women now picking up where men left off as goddesses of freedom); and and above all by the erasure of religion, humility, remorse, confession – all those now mocked or ignored institutions where the sinner could self-reflect in time to ponder: that won’t- go-away sermonizing man on the cross, the woman kneeling by his corpse, the miracle of her mercy somehow bringing him back to consciousness… too late but yet not to late.


… the meaning of “before it’s yet too late”: did the point register?: (Turn, Turn, Turn)? – no: even that was “come’on people, let’s love one another (not= each other)…” – it meant everyone/everyone – which is in its own also an escape from love, which is “each other”.

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