Last Saturday I was watching the HD version of the Met’s Cosi Fan Tutti (“So do they all”), a lovely opera for those who like Mozart’s music. The opera is a farce, full of the confusion of disguise and lost and found identity that forms the plot of so many musical stories of the period. If there isn’t a book about the subject, there should be.
At any rate, the two sisters at the heart of the story, are being tempted to stray by their absent lovers in disguise. It’s all charming, light-hearted fun, until one of them, Fiordiligi, realizing that she is weakening to the romantic entreaties of the stranger who is actually her sister’s lover in disguise, sings a wonderfully poignant aria, “Per pieta” (“Have pity”). I’d never heard Susanna Phillips sing before, but she was extraordinary. The plot was no longer a game but a deceit that was undermining her identity. She’d lost her moorings. The pain was overwhelming.
It’s odd how things that seem to have nothing to do with each other suddenly come together. Like Mozart and John Le Carre. I’d never read Le Carre, not for any particular reason. I’d just never gotten around to it. (He is, by the way, a fine and complex writer.) I first read “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and then “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.” Both books are thick with deceit. British spies, it seems, were continually role-playing. Perhaps that’s true of all kinds of spies. By definition.
In “Tinker, Tailor….” the characters had spent years working with a man they loved and trusted, and who turned out to be Russia’s mole in their operation. His influence had been so profound, they couldn’t stop loving him, even trusting him after that. In “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” the main character finds out at the end that everything he’s been doing has been scripted so that the outcome will be the opposite of what he’d intended. Almost no one is who they seemed to be. Since the consequences, intended and otherwise, have to do with life and death, that’s no small thing.
Worst of all from my point of view, he’s never been who he thought he was.
Deceit, it seems to me, may be worse than murder.