Telephone ValentineWith Valentine's Day upon us, it seems natural for opera-loving classical-music-type people to think about operas that relate to the holiday. It’s harder than you’d think to come up with much of a list of musical love stories that actually fit the spirit of the holiday. Just looking at some of the classic operas points up the problem:

Tristan und Isolde
La Traviata
Il Trovatore
La Boheme
Lucia di Lammermoor
Pelléas et Mélisande

So many of the great operatic love stories have such bummer endings! Usually the girl ends up dead or only very occasionally the guy ends up dead or they both end up dead. This is not the message most people would want to send to any current or potential Valentine.

So, what about comedies where guy gets girl or girl gets guy?

L’Incoronazione di Poppea
This looks promising -- it even has Cupid as a character, and he gets to proclaim that love wins out over everything! But…Poppea and Nero are two of the most conniving, dishonest, cruel, disagreeable people in the operatic literature. (And it doesn’t help to know that once they were married, Nero pretty quickly lost interest in her and kicked her to death.) This is not a couple most normal people would want to take as romantic models.

The Marriage of Figaro
Again -- promising -- it has “marriage” in the title! But Mozart and Beaumarchais have such a complex view of human nature that it takes some of the romantic wind out of the audience’s sails: besides seeing the happy young couple get married, we get the spectacle of the older married couple that we all dread turning into, still trying to make a go of it, but with no strong assurances that things are going to work out. Next!

This is another mixed bag. The guy and the girl do get each other, even though they’re not the main part of the story. The plot involves lots of duplicity and deceit, and the biggest event is the humiliation of an old fool. Again, it doesn’t exactly embody the spirit of big-hearted romance that Valentine's Day is supposed to celebrate.

There is, though, an opera that’s ideal for Valentine’s Day:

The Telephone, by Gian Carlo Menotti
It’s the perfect date opera for busy modern people. It’s short. It’s got contemporary characters that we can easily relate to. It doesn’t have a villain. It shows that love can triumph over the complexities of modern life if you just have some perseverance and ingenuity. Very simply, Ben isn’t able to propose marriage to Lucy because she won’t stop talking to all sorts of friends on the telephone. They finally connect after he goes out and calls her on the phone, and she happily accepts his proposal. You don’t have to think very hard to realize that these people are going to have some serious communication issues down the road, but stay with the moment of delirious happiness that ends the opera. (It’s fun to think about a production that would use a more current technology than the telephone to block their conversation -- instant messaging might work, but text messaging could slow things down and make the opera last way too long.)

YouTube has the complete opera, in two parts, from a 1968 production. It features the very young, very attractive and very amusing team of Anja Silja and Eberhard Wächter. It's in German, but you don't really have to know the language to get a good idea of what's going on, and it's hard to imagine a better musical and dramatic presentation of the opera.

The Telephone, Part one
The Telephone, Part two

Here are some excerpts in English from a CD featuring The New York Chamber Ensemble.
The Telephone - Hello, hello
The Telephone - Oh, I'll go insane!
The Telephone - Hello, this is Lucy
The Telephone - Your number! Your number!

Enjoy The Telephone with your sweetie!