An opera is far more real than real life to me

Still from Frankfurt am Main.

La Juive is the ‘grand’ opera by J. F. Halévy, 1835.

‘W.S.’ stands for ‘Writer to the Signet’: in Scotland, a senior solicitor conducting cases in the Court of Session.

[Dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sir Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 1, 107].

To his mother [Colvin 1911, pp. 51-53]

13 Rosengasse, Frankfurt, Tuesday Morning, August 1872.

[…] Last night I was at the theatre and heard Die Judin (La Juive), and was thereby terribly excited. […] At last, in the middle of the fifth act, which was perfectly beastly, I had to slope. I could stand even seeing the cauldron with the sham fire beneath, and the two hateful executioners in red; but when at last the girl’s courage breaks down, and, grasping her father’s arm, she cries out – O so shudderfully! – I thought it high time to be out of that galère, and so I do not know yet whether it ends well or ill; but if I ever afterwards find that they do carry things to the extremity, I shall think more meanly of my species.

Halevy Judin Piano Vocal Score Edition Peters Nr. 2686

Peters score of ‘Die Judin’, German version of Halevy’s opera (here reduced for the piano) []

‘La Juive’, grand opera by Halévy, 1835, Act 1

‘La Juive’, grand opera by Halévy, 1835, Act 5

It was raining and cold outside, so I went into a Bierhalle, and sat and brooded over a Schnitt (half-glass) for nearly an hour. An opera is far more real than real life to me. It seems as if stage illusion, and particularly this hardest to swallow and most conventional illusion of them all – an opera – would never stale upon me. I wish that life was an opera. I should like to live in one; but I don’t know in what quarter of the globe I shall find a society so constituted. Besides, it would soon pall: imagine asking for three-kreuzer cigars in recitative, or giving the washerwoman the inventory of your dirty clothes in a sustained and flourishous aria.

Frankfurt Synagoge, 1860

Frankfurt Judengasse, 1872

I am in a right good mood this morning to sit here and write to you; but not to give you news. There is a great stir of life, in a quiet, almost country fashion, all about us here. Some one is hammering a beef-steak in the rez-de-chaussée: there is a great clink of pitchers and noise of the pump-handle at the public well in the little square-kin round the corner.

C.Th. Reiffenstein, Courtyard of Textor’s house, 1862

The children, all seemingly within a month, and certainly none above five, that always go halting and stumbling up and down the roadway, are ordinarily very quiet, and sit sedately puddling in the gutter, trying, I suppose, poor little devils! to understand their Muttersprache; but they, too, make themselves heard from time to time in little incomprehensible antiphonies, about the drift that comes down to them by their rivers from the strange lands higher up the Gasse. Above all, there is here such a twittering of canaries (I can see twelve out of our window), and such continual visitation of grey doves and big-nosed sparrows, as make our little bye-street into a perfect aviary. […]

P. Becker, The wood store in the Rittergasse, 1872

P. Becker, The Arnsburger Hof, 1872

I look across the Gasse at our opposite neighbour, as he dandles his baby about, and occasionally takes a spoonful or two of some pale slimy nastiness that looks like dead porridge, if you can take the conception. These two are his only occupations. All day long you can hear him singing over the brat when he is not eating; or see him eating when he is not keeping baby. Besides which, there comes into his house a continual round of visitors that puts me in mind of the luncheon hour at home. As he has thus no ostensible avocation, we have named him ‘the W.S.’ to give a flavour of respectability to the street.

P. Becker, Blick in das Rapunzelgässchen, 1872

Enough of the Gasse. The weather is here much colder. It rained a good deal yesterday; and though it is fair and sunshiny again to-day, and we can still sit, of course, with our windows open, yet there is no more excuse for the siesta; and the bathe in the river, except for cleanliness, is no longer a necessity of life. The Main is very swift. In one part of the baths it is next door to impossible to swim against it, and I suspect that, out in the open, it would be quite impossible.

F.E. Morgenstern, The wood depot, before 1876

Adieu, my dear mother, and believe me, ever your affectionate son,

R.L. Stevenson (Rentier)



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2 Responses to An opera is far more real than real life to me

  1. rdury says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how many illustrations of the right place and time you manage to find on the internet. It really makers reading the letters a different experience.


  2. mafalda says:

    Hope I never make any mistakes!


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