Opera and Hollywood. Philadelphia and The Shawshank Redemption. In both we’re given opera. In both we’re invited to consider whether this might just be the most beautiful form of music – the one that has the most feeling to it.
In Shawshank Red says he has no idea what the two Italian ladies are singing about and he doesn’t want to know. It’s more beautiful for him just to listen to the sounds.
“Some things are better left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”
In Philadelphia Andy Beckett can’t do what Andy Dufresne did: just let it play. He has to tutor the other listener. He has to give him a running commentary: “This is Madeleine. She’s saying how during the French Revolution, a mob set fire to her house, and her mother died… saving her. ‘Look, the place that cradled me is burning.’ Can you hear the heartache in her voice? Can you feel it, Joe?”
When Vivian Ward is brought to La Traviata in Pretty Woman she feels it in a way that Edward Lewis can’t – another cliché: the salt-of-the earth, more in touch with their own emotions than the well-to-do, connect with this music automatically, while the well-to-do are there merely as a social convention.
Why is opera presented as something that can make us feel more?