A Night at the Opera

David Starkey visits the Lincoln Center for a night at the opera.

Arrive at the Lincoln Center in good time; so plenty of time to appraise (in the sense of 'to assign a money value to') the audience; giggle at the decor (who but these heirs of Solomon in all his glory would gild concrete?); and glance at the programme. It's Mozart's Clemenza di Tito.

'Vitellia, daughter of the deposed emperor Vitellius, is outraged at being passed over by the emperor Titus. Therefore she commands her lover, Sextus, who is also Titus's closest friend, to murder the emperor.' Will he, won't he, with much to-ing and fro-ing.

In short, the oldest stock plot in the business. And like the stock cubes it so much resembles, it comes in two varieties, gold and red. There's the chicken-and-herb, tragi-comic version of La Clemenza when the murder is prevented and everything ends happily; and there's the full-bloodied and beefy, as in Hamlet, when the assassination is carried out and all hell breaks loose. Not hell, though, but vigorous applause broke round the house; the overture began, and I settled down to enjoy the performance.

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