Nowhere are human beings so magnificently self-assertive as in opera. Everything about operatic characters is outsize; their bodies, their flowing gowns and capacious cloaks, and their desires. No sooner has the hero set his eyes on the leading lady than he trumpets his desire to possess her; when the villain spots his victim, he tells us how he longs to send him to hell. All this fervent emotion is channelled through those great ringing voices, aided and abetted by the orchestra’s surges and swells.
It’s exhilarating to behold, partly because we envy these creatures their unbuttoned emotional life. We, by contrast, are held back by a thousand scruples and doubts. The question T.S. Eliot put into the mouth of J.