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A Convenience of Marriage: Collaboration and Interdisciplinarity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


At the risk of sounding like a parody of a conversation about opera and illness in the 1987 movie Moonstruck, we would like to relate a postperformance dialogue about Richard Wagner's last opera. Parsifal (not Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, as in the film). While descending the same staircase at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as Loretta and Ronny, the film characters played by Cher and Nicholas Cage, a man turned to his wife and said, not “You know, I didn't think she was going to die! I knew she was sick,” but “Do you think audiences today understand that Amfortas had syphilis?” Since this man is a physician, his wife was used to his medical observations, though this time he took her by surprise: “Syphilis? He was wounded by a spear when caught in the arms of the seductress Kundry!” “Yes,” he replied, “but that might just be Wagner's indirect or allegorical way of invoking nineteenth-century obsessive worries about venereal disease. Did you notice that this is a wound (one inflicted in a moment of amatory indiscretion) that won't heal, whose pain is worse at night and is eased only slightly by baths and balsams? To any nineteenth-century audience these symptoms and signals would have meant only one thing: syphilis.” “If that's the case.” his wife suggested, “then people must have written about this and we can find out.” “Not necessarily. People didn't talk openly about this kind of disease; it was secret and shameful, remember. And today, thanks to the discovery of penicillin, we luckily don't have to know about such things anymore,” said he.

Theories and Methodologies
PMLA , Volume 116 , Issue 5 , October 2001 , pp. 1364 - 1376
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2001

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