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Fucking to Wagner and Flirting with Mozart, on the book Deviant Opera (2021)

You can listen to this musing here, or read it below.

I recently finished the book Deviant Opera: Sex, Power, and Perversion on Stage by Axel Englund, a literature professor at Stockholm University. It examines the triangular relationship between opera, BDSM and non-consensual power games. I don’t know much about opera; I attended one classical opera in Venice fifteen years ago, and more recently, Satyagraha (1985) by Philip Glass. Axel tells the story about two forms of opera, classical and directors opera. The latter being a modern interpretation of the originals, sometimes deviant, sometimes flirting with BDSM symbolism. The reason for doing so is to shine a light on the often non-consensual power games of traditional opera that tell stories of sex and violence in a glorifying and eroticizing manner. Opera can be seen as the musical journey of many orgasmic crescendos in brothel-like golden-velvet-red interiors.

Much of my fetishized taste in kink, outside rope bondage, is inspired by the Weimar eras juxtaposition of power and perversion. I remember a scene taking place in a Venetian theatre from Senso ’45 (Black Angel), a movie by Italian director Tinto Brass. The story is that of a destructive sexual relationship between an Italian primadonna and a German SS officer. The theatre performance criticizes the fascism government, and the SS officer responds by sexually humiliating a woman from the audience on stage. He manically laughs out loud that everything is okay now—the perversion of sex and violence. The theatre’s golden-velvet-red interior is also dressed in Nazi symbols of power. For me, this is the pinnacle of erotic and abusive power games from an era that glorified it. Looking at the MeToo-movement’s aftermath, it seems that similar, but lighter and maybe more hidden, power games still are taking place within the performing arts. So it makes sense to me that modern directors’ opera is flirting with BDSM to clarify these power dynamics by making them conscious and consensual.


The books make me wonder; how opera-like is my BDSM play? In a way, it’s very different because my play flirts a lot with down-spiraling repetition into a meditation. There is a slowness to it. And a dream-like quality that isn’t really going anywhere. And there are few crescendos. Instead, the orgasm is a state of mind rather than a goal to reach. Here I’m probably significantly influenced by my tantric practices and might differ from mainstream BDSM. Rope bondage fascinates me by its simplicity, and I enjoy the tingling mystique in the play of not seeing everything. It drives me to listen harder, tuning-up my senses and feeling more with less. On the other hand, opera seems more aimed to overwhelm, in a display of grandeur.

One of my favourite parts of the book was about establishing a scene, or in other words, “flirting”. Different stagings of Mozart’s Don Giovanni exemplifies this. Don Giovanni is the opera version of the Don Juan story, also known as the most tragic example of how men relate to women in history. It’s about a manipulating playboy trying to fuck as many babes as possible. I guess, four hundred years ago, it was meant to be funny, but today it’s just sad. So can some consent and consciousness practices from BDSM save this story? One can portray the scenes as BDSM by, for example, using leather and latex aesthetics, or label it as a kink, like male domination or traditional gender roles. Hopefully, this shows the consciousness and a mutual play with power outside everyday life hierarchies. The opera director could also have Don Giovanni or one of the women establish prenegotiated consent as in asking before the interaction. Hey married babe, I know you hate me, but can I dress up at your servat and snagg you? I don’t know if that would make things any better. If you want to know how to actually set up a play in a safer maner, then read my text Playing safer.

Finally they could attempt on-the-fly consent; that is kind of the fine art of flirting. Many men describe flirting as walking through a minefield, and many women are disgusted by it because it’s unclear. Online BDSM communities are waving the “We are not a dating site”-flag high. There is an app for that. Swipe left or right. No mistakes and no mystery. I think we Swedes are just terribly bad at flirting. A friend of mine said that the beauty of flirting is when one can’t be sure if it happened or not. It affected us somehow, like a spark of energy, and we can guess where it came from but never really know. That is the difference between flirting and making a formal inquiry. When studying theatre, I loved to create attraction between the two characters, too see when an audience would find it believable. What makes something okay? And even further, what makes it sexy and mysterious? It is the tiniest little details I learnt. The shift of tone midsentence, or exposing the neck or wrist, or the way eye contact is established. It reminds me of animals that are continually communicating their emotional state withe their bodies. Humans are the weird once that no longer notice these shifts in our doing-focused digitalized world. We need an emoji to know – to be sure – because knowing for sure is important nowadays.

So here I will end this weekly musing. What I take away is an intense curiosity to provide more space for kinky flirting, in the most mysterious manner. And giving fucking to Wagner a tryout.