Re Lear

I have this dream, sometimes, where Verdi lived to set King Lear to music. It’s one of those lingering dreams: I wake up with snatches of song in my head, little swells and descants that haunt me till they wear thin.

You can read the libretto, what there was of it. It was well on its way, fairly polished. You can read Verdi’s correspondence with the librettist. You can imagine—you can invent a scenario, how it might’ve gone. The lines are right there, and you can’t help but fill in what Verdi might’ve done with them. But you can’t know. You can’t listen. You can try to sing along, but that always falls apart. You’re not Verdi. You can’t be Verdi.

It would’ve been magnificent, though. He’d have been bold with it: he was old, and he was always ahead of his time. He’d reinvented himself several times, already. In his eighties, he’d have risen one more time—

There’d have been an incomplete melody, I think. A phrase that never quite resolved itself. Like in Macbeth, with Una macchia è qui tuttora, where Lady Macbeth fumbles for the tune and for her reason, never arriving at either. Only this time, it would’ve been more of an extended metaphor, sort of thing: we’d have heard it first in the overture, a little scrap of light hovering over some sighing dirge. It would’ve come again when Lear asks Cordelia, non hai tu cosa a dirmi? Throughout the rising action, we’d have heard it, more lost and more frantic with each iteration, and the resolution—that would’ve come near the end, with Cordelia’s death: è troppo tardi; è morta—ah, tu, tu almeno pietosa or t’apri, o terra…. Right there. Lear would’ve cradled his daughter’s body as the orchestra carried the melody to a dissonant finish. We’d have heard joy expire, and hope, and the will to live. I mean, maybe. That’s what I’d have done. I like a bit of melodrama.

This, incidentally, is doing nothing to relieve my frustration. I’d hoped, if I wrote down what I wanted, I might get some sort of satisfaction. But I’ve hardly started, and I’ve got that feeling where…man, you know when your favourite TV show ends on a cliffhanger, and you have all these theories, then you hear it’s been cancelled? That feeling. I’ve got that. Fucking hell. Damn it, Verdi.

If I could go back in time, I’d write him a better libretto—one he wouldn’t be able to resist. I’d write him such a libretto. Then, I’d come back to the present and listen to, like, Nicolaï Ghiaurov or Samuel Ramey sing my words set to Verdi’s music, on my iPod, with those brilliant headphones Mother got for my birthday, a few years back. It would be great.

(Except, maybe I wouldn’t be able to listen to our magnum opus in my present. Maybe by going back in time, I’d be creating a parallel timeline where Verdi finished Re Lear, but I wouldn’t be able to enter that timeline except by staying there the whole time, so I’d have to choose between living in the 1800s forever or never hearing my masterpiece. Maybe I could stay long enough to hear it once—but then, I’d spend the rest of my life pining for it. Tu mi condanni a vivere e m’abbandoni intanto!)

Man, time travel sucks. Verdi sucks. I’m going to listen to Macbeth.