Chapter 1: The Importance of Opera

Starting on page one of Bel Canto by author, Ann Patchett, we see the importance music and opera has in the novel. We read of this remarkable kiss and that the audience “were so taken by the beauty of her voice that they wanted to cover her mouth with their mouth, drink in”. We later find out the importance opera plays in Mr. Hosokawa’s life and his fascination with the art and more appropriately, Roxane Coss. Roxane is a lyric soprano who was invited to sing at an elaborate party. The host country used her as a bribe for Mr. Hosokawa to attend the party. “He had turned down half a dozen strong requests from these very people, for this exact party, until the promised gift was the presence of Roxane Coss.” This really shows the possible power opera has over people. While I know of opera and that it plays an important role in the Italian culture I am unfamiliar with the history or singers associated with opera. Mr. Hosokawa’s intense love for opera that Pachett portrayed led me to the investigation of this art form.

Opera is a story told through song and music making the music very theatrical and emotional. Opera is said to have originated in Italy and that the first recognizable opera was, Orfeo, which was performed in 1607. (Victoria) It was common for early operas to retell greek myths. Much like Orfeo, which tells the story of Orpheus, who descends into Hades to bring back his dead wife Euridice. Orfeus then tames the fiends of hell with his music. (Victoria) In Bel Canto, the opera performed at the party was planned to show how prosperous the country is. As I found in my research this display of status is exactly how the opera orginated they “were spectacular productions celebrating marriages or political visits used by kings or nobles to show off their wealth and power. They were unashamed propaganda aimed at impressing foreign dignitaries and other royals.” (Victoria) In this case the foreign dignitary to impress would be Mr. Hosokawa and Miss Coss is used to show the country’s wealth. However, we are told that the host country is poor so it seems they are trying to convey they may not be wealthy with money but instead culturally.

While there are many names of operas stated in chapter one, two in particular seemed significant, Rigoletto as well as, Rusalka. Rigoletto was Katsumi Hosokawa’s first heard opera. He attended this performance with his father in Tokyo when he was eleven. Patchette describes this flashback in great detail which expresses how significant this event was to Mr. Hosokawa. As described, “This was the performance that imprinted opera on Hosokawa.” Being such a substantial event of Mr. Hosokawa I wanted to explore what this particular opera was all about. In my discoveries I learned, it first appeared in 1851 in Venice. The opera is performed in three acts and is based on “Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’amuse” (Rigoletto) This opera is about “Rigoletto, court jester to the libertine Duke of Mantua, is cursed by the father of one of the Duke’s victims for his irreverent laughter. When the Duke seduces Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda, it seems the curse is taking effect. Rigoletto arranges to have the Duke assassinated. But Gilda still loves the womanizing Duke and sacrifices herself in his place. Rigoletto eagerly uncovers the corpse only to discover his daughter, who dies in his arms.” (Rigoletto) From what I have learned so far around opera the summary of Rigoletto perfectly describes what the performance of opera. A dramatic and enticing story that embraces many plot twists leaving the viewer in a state of confusion. Who is the “bad” guy? Which character should they side with? Along with Rigoletto, Rusalka is vital to chapter one. Mr. Hosokawa is told that he can make a request upon accepting the invitation and it would be given to Miss Coss for consideration. Rusalka shows the respect and admiration he possess for Roxane. He did not wish to pick something obscure but rather a piece that would “require no extra preparation on her behalf”. The intimacy he was able to receive of being the honored guest granted him the ability to hear her sing Rusalka while standing close to her in a room. Rusalka is about “a prince and a miller’s daughter have been involved in a romance together, but now the prince tells her that he must break it off. After the prince leaves, the distraught young woman attempts to drown herself. When the prince’s wedding day arrives, he is tormented by her image, which appears wherever he goes. Eventually, he is compelled to return and to try to find out what happened to her, regardless of the consequences.” Mr. Hosokawa has a lyric from the opera that one of his translators wrote down for him “If a human soul should dream of me, may he still remember me on awaking!”

Through this research, even though just scratching the opera surface, it is clear to me the immense emotion it contains. Each opera pulls on the heart strings of the audience and creates an environment that envelopes you. Mr. Hosokawa seems to live a very corporate, political and busy life. Patchett is very descriptive of Mr. Hosokawa’s feelings about opera and his opinions about the world therefore, I have begun to understand how opera is a gateway for Mr. Hosokawa. He is able free his mind to a place where he finds passion. Which is what the arts is really all about, passion.

“Victoria and Albert Museum.” , Online Museum, Web Team, Victoria
and Albert Museum, n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2015.

“Rigoletto.” — Productions — Royal Opera House. Royal Opera House, n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 2015.

“Plot Summary.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 03 Sept. 2015.


One thought on “Chapter 1: The Importance of Opera

  1. slaudeman says:

    I think that your choice to highlight the importance of the opera as a connecting agent is key, especially in the first chapter. It relates every character in a matter of moments as Roxane Coss sings her arias. The connections between the more important or powerful characters are made explicitly clear, but perhaps more important is the connection of the terrorists to Roxane Coss through the opera. Patchett tells us that even those boys who have never heard real music before are deeply touched by the beauty that they do not understand. I feel that the fact that the young boys are so entranced by her singing is even more important than the connection between Coss and the other guests at the party. She has immediately, before even knowing of their presence, created a bond that is irrevocably permanent.
    In that vein, perhaps we should draw attention as well to the fact that Coss seems to be the metaphorical glue holding the situation together. She acts as a beacon for the terrorist group, drawing them to her as they all want to touch her and touch a piece of the beauty that she embodies. In the moments when the young boys are transfixed by her presence, she transcends mortality, becoming something significantly more than a woman who sings, and, indeed, taking the form of the opera as a whole. Coss becomes her “gift,” and seems to act as a symbol of hope and beauty in a scenario that causes nothing but confusion, fear, and pain.


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