Function of Narrative

"His only maxim being that the artist
Is a man, and he must write
For men."

-extracted from the Prologue of Ruggero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, or The Players

Having taken part in a production of the Singpore Lyric Opera's I Pagliacci or The Players in September 2000, the words of the opening Prologue, as sung by the protagonist Tonio, made a deep impression upon me. What fascinated me was how the functions of narrative could be so beautifully and simplistically contained.

Listening to the Prologue being sung, I was struck by the profoundness of what he conveyed to the audience - the mortality of man himself, and his innate desire to somehow still leave behind one aspect of himself, constituting his identity. Such is narration-a never ending cycle that has a vitality beyond the confines of human existence. Tonio assures and reminds us that it is not his duty to inform us of the validity of the version of events about to be presented on stage. Rather, he is there to present 'a slice of life'-that what we are about to see, is a reflection of existence itself, the source of his inspiration and art being none other than real life-the ultimate Truth and Truth itself.

As the process of production took place, the genius of what Leoncavallo wrote in the Prologue really got into me. The fact that it does really extend to real life and beyond unfolded before my eyes. During the process of production, I can't help feeling that often, what happens in the orchestra pit and backstage mirrors the drama on stage. Human conflict often occurs as a result of a clash of ego. The male and female leads were never meant to be friendly to each other as protagonists in the opera. On observation of their behaviour off stage, they were equally cold to each other. Heated disagreements inevitably arise between music director and stage manager, their quarrels at times matching the intensity of the drama on stage. If the source of narration be conflict, then perhaps it is the never ending occurrance of conflict that gives narration its vitality.