Some bittersweet Mozart (triggers?)

In a private conversation with another member a little while ago, the topic of how our abusers robbed us of a normal sexual awakening came up. That is very much how I feel, and it’s something I see over and over in other men here. Instead of what would otherwise have been a kind of gradual unfolding conducted at our own pace, under our own control, there was an intense zap creating a jagged line between an innocent before and an experienced after.

The question of innocence, and how it might melt away in puberty under “normal” circumstances, made me think of a song that’s been in my head a lot lately, my favorite aria from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” “Voi che sapete.” Back in college, I listened to this opera over and over, but hadn’t given it much of a thought since -- until around the time I joined this group, when this tune in particular began floating into my head on an endless loop.

It's a beautiful melody, sung by the character Cherubino, a page. The part's traditionally a "trouser role," a mezzo-soprano in men's clothes playing a pubescent boy whose voice has not yet broken. (“He” does end up getting dressed in drag as a girl a couple times, though. The plot’s…convoluted.) Cherubino is winningly innocent and romantic. His girlfriend is Barbarina, the gardener’s daughter, but he also has a puppy-dog crush on the Countess, a much older woman (she’s just amused, not particularly interested, and works things out so he ends up with Barbarina). It’s clear he's in that "I'm perfectly happy with just kissing for three straight hours" stage of male sexual development. In act two, the aria "voi che sapete" is where he takes a moment to tell everyone what his deal is.

The text goes like this:

Voi, che sapete che cosa è amor,
Donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cor!
Quello ch'io provo, vi ridirò,
È per me nuovo; capir nol so.
Sento un affetto pien di desir,
Ch'ora è diletto, ch'ora e martir.
Gelo, e poi sento l'alma avvampar,
E in un momento torno a gelar.
Ricerco un bene fuori di me,
Non so chi il tiene, non so cos'è.
Sospiro e gemo senza voler,
Palpito e tremo senza saper,
Non trovo pace notte nè di,
Ma pur mi piace languir così!

In English:

You ladies, who know what love is,
See if I have it in my heart!
I'll tell you what I'm going through,
It's new to me; I can't understand it.
I feel a liking full of desire
That now is pleasure, now is agony.
I freeze, and then feel my soul burning,
And in another moment go back to freezing.
I look for a good outside myself,
I don't know who has it, I don't know what it is.
I sigh and groan without wanting to,
I quiver and tremble without knowing it,
I find no peace night or day,
And yet I like suffering this way!

Woah, right?

Anyway, I decided to head to Youtube to see what versions are out there these days, aside from my beloved Anne Sofie von Otter rendition (Georg Solti conducting, 1981). And I came across the performance below, by a Norwegian treble named Aksel Rykkven. It gutted me. He’s a Cherubino who’s actually more or less Cherubino's purported age. The piano’s a bit out of tune, but his voice isn’t, and he acts the aria so sincerely. You can tell it’s something he’s probably living himself.

What really gets me, and made me think of posting it here, is how this music works a kind of magic. Hearing Mozart’s evocation of an experience I’ve long felt as if I didn’t really have is somehow cathartic. Yeah, ok, my version of the coming of age described in this aria was twisted up in all sorts of ways involving self-hatred, fear of intimacy, abuse-related SSA, and shame. Nevertheless, hearing that part of life presented in an achingly pure form, for some reason, makes it possible for me to recognize some of that blooming sweetness in the weedy garden I ended up with. The contrast makes me sad, but because it’s not a matter of night-and-day, just a well-tended flowerbed versus a badly-tended one, it’s also a kind of odd comfort.

I’m not sure if I should put a Trigger Warning on this video or not. For me it’s beautiful if also bittersweet, but I don’t know how others might respond.

Here's the link:

Aksel Rykkven sings "Voi che sapete"
 
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It guts me as well but for different reasons. I'm Norwegian and as a boy with big blue eyes and a soprano voice I was singing solos with adult choirs. I certainly wasn't singing Mozart and, in fact, have not been much of a fan of opera. But I remember all of the attention I received from about the age of six that I both loved and hated. And, seeing this thirteen year old boy, so beautiful and talented, I can't help but forget remember two things. First, the Sunday morning when my voice broke in the middle of a solo at church... and secondly, that as a thirteen year old I was breaking into homes to steal lingerie... all a product of the sexual abuse I experienced at the hands of my mother. There was no innocence left for that 13 year old boy, only confusion and shame, the theme of my life.

It was in re-reading this post that I noticed I wrote "forget" when I meant to write "remember." I guess that says everything about how intense has been the need to forget the horror of it all. It took me fifty years to "remember" the truth behind the bewildering acting out behavior that haunted me.
 
It guts me as well but for different reasons. [....] It was in re-reading this post that I noticed I wrote "forget" when I meant to write "remember." I guess that says everything about how intense has been the need to forget the horror of it all. It took me fifty years to "remember" the truth behind the bewildering acting out behavior that haunted me.
(((( @Visitor ))))

I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to lay a trap with this.

The breaking of my voice, a voice I hated for reasons I now understand much better than I once did, came as a liberation -- though fortunately I didn't have to perform that publicly. As for all the other appurtenances of puberty...not so much. Those made me feel like a monster.

Your "error" (Freudian slip, maybe?) is so telling. Being in a position where one "can't help but forget" would seem to describe the predicament very well. Not only yours, but many of ours, I think.
 
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You weren't laying a trap but seeing that boy was a powerful reminder of the past and I felt a need to share that. And yes, the slip of a tongue is important to recognize. My first instinct was to simply change the word... then I had to acknowledge what had happened and knew it needed to be noted. It took me almost fifty years to finally remember what happened when I was a boy and another twenty to recognize that other memories I'd encountered years before in long term therapy were in fact sexual abuse. I'd simply explained them away without understanding those events when i was an infant prepared me for all the horror that followed, including sexual abuse at the hands of neighbors when I was between 3 and 7 years of age. I was raped at age seven by one of the men in that extended family of pedophiles.

Sadly, my singing voice was never allowed to develop as it would for a boy who felt secure in himself and safe in the world. Yes, I performed in a variety of settings, always with appreciation. Heads turning to see who was singing was at once a source of pride and embarrassment. And so I stopped singing... another casualty of childhood sexual trauma.
 
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