Decline and fall
There's nothing quite like a live performance. On Monday night I went to La Traviata at the Royal Opera House: the last time I saw the opera it was on a television above a hospital bed. I passed from death to life: Violetta passed from life to death. I didn't really appreciate that at the time. I wasn't really in a position to.
It's a fine place to see La Traviata, and at the same time it doesn't really work there as it should. It's an opera about a fall, a fall from a life of finery in the first scene to a death on poverty in the last: the contrast is at the centre of everything and for that contrast to be meaningful, for it to be more than just a change of scenery behind the curtain, the contrast has to be felt. But how can you feel that contrast when that opening scene, high society at play, with dancing and footmen and dinner jackets and drinks, is no contrast at all to the audience? To me it looked much the same as the Champagne Bar in which much of the audience (though not, alas, myself) had spent the period just prior to the curtain coming up.
It's hard to feel privilege, when you possess it: it's hard to feel its loss unless you lose it. Or unless you've never had it anyway, but have had the chance to see it, touch it, look at it not just nose-against-the-window but in the same room. You can get that experience, at the opera: you can hardly avoid it. And after that, you go home, through the rain, on the 176: you have the same music running through your head as everybody else, but, perhaps, a different set of thoughts entirely.