Jeanette Winterson & opera

Jeanette Winterson & opera

Been reading a lot of Jeanette Winterson lately and noticing that her love of the opera keeps surfacing in her writing.

In Written on the Body, to describe somebody s/he doesn’t particularly care about the narrator says that among other things, “she never wanted to be taken to the opera.”

Later in the same book, the woman that the narrator is in love with — and that may or may not be based on Pat Kavanagh — offers tickets to the opera.

During the interval of The Marriage of Figaro I realised how often other people looked at Louise. On every side we were battered by sequins, dazed with gold. The women wore their jewellery like medals. […] The jewels glinted their own warning at Louise’s bare throat. She wore a simple dress of moss green silk, a pair of jade earrings, and a wedding ring.

In Gut Symmetries, the opera Don Giovanni gets mentioned and its libretto quoted by the treacherous man in the triangle.

My friend Marieke recently reminded me that it was Jeanetter Winterson’s story that takes the central space in the booklet for the von Otter’s Carmen Opus Arte DVD. How could I have forgotten! It was written from the point of view of Don Jose, of course, so we as readers can partake in the Carmen worship.

Here’s also a good BBC interview with La Winterson in which we can hear some of the reasons why she loves the opera so much: Late Show – Face to Face with Jeanette Winterson.

I’m reading Passion now and waiting for the first opera reference to emerge. Anybody else came across opera stuff in her other works?

18 thoughts on “Jeanette Winterson & opera

  1. Dio mio, no I haven’t! What a find!

    “There are two kinds of transcendent experience; sex with someone you love, and a night at the opera. I often cry at a poem or a picture, but for me, only opera and sex are full body experiences, perhaps because they are also out of the body experiences.”

    Sing it, JW!

  2. This blog does have a way of adding to my reading list!! And Winterson sounds like an author who should be instantly put at the top of said list… do you have a recommended starting point (Written on the Body sounds amazing, but I’ll defer to expert advice if you have another suggestion.) I love the article as well.

    1. Given your love of the Aufklärung (which I share, but you read German, damn you), Passion might be a good start: set in France and Venice at the time of the Napoleonic wars. The narrator is an infantry soldier in the Emperor’s army who becomes his private chef (read: the wringer of necks of his countless chicken dinners). At every turn you get surprised by how much history she’s read and yet how discreetly she uses the knowledge. For example, Napoleon’s is the first national army ever, so some of Henri’s thoughts will be about why he chose the life of a soldier (it’s hardship all right, but unlike the hardship of the peasant life and his lapsed Catholicism, this one gives him a purpose and an idol to worship).

      Sexing the Cherry also uses history and magic realism and gender theory to great results.

      Then later you can try her liaison novels. Written on the Body is very interesting, and not only because the narrator’s affair with the married Louise rhymes with JW’s own elopement with Julian Barnes’s late great wife. Pat K returned to him. JW’s book has a happy ending. I don’t know which version to believe more, the non-novelistic or the novelistic reality.

      1. Thank you! Passion sounds like the best kind of historical novel (imho,) and anything that “uses history and magic realism and gender theory to great results” must be a real treat.

  3. Oh, there’s an idea. I found the deliberate artifice of the style a bit off-putting, on the whole, although there was much of interest. I’ll see if I can get some coherent thoughts together on the parts and whole of the collection.🙂

    And, in all seriousness, I’m all for the potential of novelistic reality to express deeper truths than “what actually happened.”

      1. I get confused with this, too, but the essays one is Art Objects. Art & Lies is the novel she wrote after Written on the Body.

        So yeah, it seems to crop up everywhere in her work. Now I have to read it all. Life is hard.

  4. What’s the excerpt, I can’t see it — I only get covers of books when I go to the page.

    It sounds like a quip he might have said at a party. It doesn’t sound entirely nonsensical (the extreme merging of the two lovers is the kind of thing women are often accused of doing with each other, whether in the mother-daughter, the friend-friend, or the lover-lover dyad), but I wondered if it was in a book, therefore surrounded by some semblance of argument, or a Tweet avant la lettre.

  5. It is wicked surrounded by some semblance of argument, but here’s the money quote:

    “Both myths [Tristan, Don Juan] are diseases of the Christian imagination and while they have inspired a great body of beautiful literature, their influence upon human conduct, particularly in their frivolous watered-down modern versions, which gloss over the fact that both the romantic couple and the solitary seducer are intensely unhappy, has been almost wholly bad. Whenever a married couple divorce because having ceased to be a divine image to each other, they cannot endure the thought of having to love a real person no better than themselves, they are acting under the spell of the Tristan myth. Whenever a man says to himself ‘I must be getting old. I haven’t had sex for a week. What would my friends say if they knew,’ he is re-enacting the myth of Don Juan. It is significant also — it might interest Plato though it would probably not surprise him — that the instances in real life which conform most closely to the original pattern of both myths are not, in either case, heterosexual; the Tristan and Isolde one actually meets are a Lesbian couple, the Don Juan a pederast.” – from the Portable Greek Reader, p. 526

    If Google won’t let you access this page, search on Auden Tristan lesbian, it comes right up.

  6. Ha! The top search that I get is this piece in which among other things I find out that Auden thought Rilke was “the greatest lesbian poet since Sappho” and that Auden’s mother taught little Auden to sing Isolde to her Tristan.

    What a fascinating Pandora’s box this search is turning out to be.

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