It’s a funny thing, rehearsing a tragedy.
I’m no dramaturge or theatre theorist so I’m not sure if there’s a strict definition of Tragedy. I’ve always supposed Tragedy to mean a drama in which the “hero” comes a cropper, in some shape or form, as the result of a fatal flaw, event or decision. And I’ve always supposed that in the best tragedies there is usually a moment at which the plot comes to a crossroads and, despite the entire will of the audience to take one route, the other fatal direction is the one chosen and the story takes off towards its inevitable, terrible conclusion.
If only Desdemona hadn’t lost her hanky eh?
Is Billy Budd a tragic figure, or is it Vere? Hmm, I had better not go into a lengthy debate about that here or we’ll be here all day, but I have already hit a problem in my Theory of Tragedy. Yes, there’s a moment when you know Billy is doomed, when he bops Claggart on the side of the head. You really wish he wouldn’t. But surely his fate is sealed the moment he steps aboard the Indomitable. Or is it even earlier, the day of his birth? Were he more ordinary-looking he might never have been the object of Claggart’s affections. Or Vere’s for that matter. Does this make him a tragic figure? I would think so. And, just touching on what I wrote earlier, if there’s a crucial moment in Vere’s journey, when is it? When he fails to defend Billy? Or is he a tragic figure too, but unlike Billy, gets to reflect on his fate?
The more you think about it, you just wish Billy never set foot on the damn boat.
And so it is with rehearsals sometimes. You often find yourself wishing, no matter how great the masterpiece, that you didn’t have to go through the emotional mangle every single day. It’s not so bad for me in this opera. Red Whiskers could never claim to bear the brunt (though I like to think I have my own little journey in the scheme of things) but he still witnesses all kinds of stuff he could do well without. Me too.

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