Essayistic stories by German writer/filmmaker Kluge (The Devil’s Blind Spot: Tales from the New Century, 2004), all centering on the world of the opera.
By some theories, classic opera represents an attempt in the Renaissance to reconstruct Greek tragedy. Kluge is attuned to the storyline of each of the operas that have captured him, but he confesses to being moved more by the music in these “enigmatic musical dramas” than by librettos whose plots are often absurd and nonsensical. The music often moves him, he writes, even if he doesn’t always understand why: “I don’t know why, but tears always come to my eyes in the third act of the Meistersinger when the shoemaker and poet Hans Sachs enters.…The point of my tears is to wash away the feeble remnants of critical thinking that seek to prevent me from believing in SELFLESS ABANDON.” And why the capital letters? Call them the acmes of his arias—or so one supposes. Autobiographical at many turns, seldom anything but realistic, these sketches connect the emotions evoked by operas with moments in history, personal and global: his parents’ divorce against Pagliacci, the rise of Nazism against Offenbach’s The Bandits, the excesses of Maoist cultural revolution against revolutionary operas such as Taking Tiger Mountain by Storm (“These cultural products built up a stronghold of idealism, which stirred up emotions”). Kluge plays off other writers, as when, with respect to the Viennese critic Karl Kraus’ likening of an opera house to a volcano, he asks, “Can hearts set buildings on fire?” The answer is, of course, just as music can bend the hardheadedness of obdurate emperors and invokes a physics by which “with each outburst of passion I give off tiny quanta of my being.”
Elegant provocations to seize an opera addict's imagination from a voice not well-known to readers on this side of the pond.