Dead art forms can still bite

I was talking to a friend of mine who lives in Dallas and goes to the opera there when she can. She told me a story that I think I am allowed to find funny because I have a feeling no real harm was done.

My friend was at a performance of Don Giovanni, and she was seated near a family with small children the parents of which became increasingly agitated through most of Act I; the whole group left after intermission. My friend’s theory was that they figured that Mozart is Mozart and opera is stuffy and safe and, well, there can’t be any significant differences between Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute, right? And so they brought their children to see . . . sex and violence and revenge.

But as I said, I suspect no harm was done. Although I can imagine the conversation in the car on the way home: “Yes, honey, the bad man was being mean to the ladies, but they worked it out in the end, and he was sorry. He and the first lady’s father had a big fight, but her father isn’t really dead — don’t worry, I know the story,and he comes back in the end so that he and Mr. Giovanni can talk about it.”

“But why was the other lady so mad at him?”

“He played a mean trick on her, and then ran away.”

“What kind of trick?”

“Well, you know how you told your friend Kyle that he could have all your Halloween candy if he would help you build a big fort in the back yard, and after he helped you, you told him you hadn’t promised anything about candy, and he got mad and hit you? It was a little bit like that.”

“But he wanted to build the fort. He had fun. He told me.”

“Exactly. But you still tricked him.”

“Oh.” [contemplative silence] “So how did he trick her?”