A night at the opera

An opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I’ve left the opera house. ― Maria Callas

In my past posts I have written many times about ethos, pathos and logos. The three persuasive appeals, as described by ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Let me briefly recap what these three are all about:

  • Ethos means ethical appeal. We tend to believe people whom we respect. We trust in products with a good reputation. We go to places that were recommended on Tripadvisor…
  • Pathos translates to emotion. We all like stories about the good vs. the bad. We prefer presenters that speak passionate about their topic. We (too) often make decisions motivated by love, admiration, fear or disgust.
  • Logos stands for reasoning and argumentation. We believe in what we can see and what we can touch. We want statements supported by facts and figures. If not, we keep asking for the Why, the What and the How.

If you think about it, ethos, pathos and logos are present in almost every area of our daily lives. And more than we realize, they determine how we experience situations, interact with people and make decisions.

I witnessed this recently myself on a trip to Budapest, where my wife and I spent a night at the opera, watching and listening to Puccini’s Tosca. I am not that frequent opera visitor nor a lifelong opera lover, but this performance really hit my sweet spot, thanks to ― what I interpreted afterwards as a ― perfect mix of ethos, pathos and logos.

  • Ethos: a more than a century old institution that opened in 1884, the Hungarian State Opera House has a very good reputation. The operaház’ acoustics are considered to be among the best in the world. From the moment we entered the venue, we were impressed by its gold-decorated interior and its red velvet seats.

opera

  • Pathos: written by the late 19th century romantic Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, the opera Tosca is filled with emotion. With love, lust and jealousy. A webpage of the Metropolitan Opera describes Tosca’s antagonist Scarpia as “the 19th century’s Darth Vader.” Almost two months after our night at the opera, Scarpia’s words “Beware: this is a place of tears!” (in Italian, “Questo è luogo di lagrime! Badate!”) still echo in my mind.

tosca

  • Logos: apart from the wonderful setting and the touching story, my wife and I enjoyed an outstanding interpretation of Tosca. The orchestra and the lead singers delivered a rousing performance. This music would have sounded great on my iPod too!

Lesson learned: as for so many other things in life, the whole of Aristotle’s rhetoric is greater than the sum of its three parts. It’s neither about ethos OR pathos OR logos, but all about ethos AND pathos AND logos.

Other blog posts about the relationship between art and storytelling:

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