Opera Requires Suspension of Disbelief…Sometimes

A Night at the Opera

by William Matthews

 (from Search Party: Collected Poems)

“The tenor’s too fat,” the beautiful young
woman complains, “and the soprano
dowdy and old.” But what if Othello’s
not black, if Rigoletto’s hump lists,
if airy Gilda and her entourage
of flesh outweigh the cello section?

In fairy tales, the prince has a good heart,
and so as an outward and visible
sign of an inward, invisible grace,
his face is not creased, nor are his limbs gnarled.
Our tenor holds in his liver-spotted
hands the soprano’s broad, burgeoning face.

Their combined age is ninety-seven; there’s
spittle in both pinches of her mouth;
a vein in his temple twitches like a worm.
Their faces are a foot apart. His eyes
widen with fear as he climbs to the high
B-flat he’ll have to hit and hold for five

dire seconds. And then they’ll stay in their stalled
hug for as long as we applaud. Franco
Corelli once bit Birgit Nilsson’s ear
in just such a command embrace because
he felt she’d upstaged him. Their costumes weigh
fifteen pounds apiece; they’re poached in sweat

and smell like fermenting pigs; their voices rise
and twine not from beauty, nor from the lack
of it, but from the hope for accuracy
and passion, both. They have to hit the note
and the emotion, both, with the one poor
arrow of the voice. Beauty’s for amateurs.