Where literature, medicine and opera intersect

Linda and Michael Hutcheon combine their disparate professional backgrounds with a love of opera

Linda Hutcheon was new at the University of Toronto when she was invited to give a talk at Victoria College.

“I asked, ‘What’s the topic?’ They (the organizers) said, ‘The body, the text’.”

She wondered what she would talk about. Her husband, Michael, suggested they collaborate. They ended up speaking about The Tubercular Heroine in Opera.

The collaboration would result in several books about opera, including Four Last Songs: Aging and Creativity in Verdi, Strauss, Messiaen, and Britten.

Linda, a university professor emeritus, and Michael, a chest physician specializing in respirology, gave a talk Dec. 13 at the S. Walter Stewart library titled Aging and Creativity: The Example of Opera Composers.

The two shared stories about the music and life of Richard Strauss, Olivier Messiaen, Benjamin Britten and Giuseppe Verdi. It was interesting to explore the composers’ life and music, because they went through different challenges, Michael said.

“One was cultural. One was physical. One physical and physiological. One was religious.”

Some of those challenges were caused by the composers’ creativity, but some were solved by it, as well, he added.

Linda said she and Michael combined their professional backgrounds with their love for opera. She recalled an occasion when she and Michael were on their way to see La Traviata with friends when they made an interesting analysis.

“I was talking about the difference between La Traviata and La Bohème,” said Michael, picking up the story. “The interesting thing, historically, is that although they both date from the same period, one is written and performed before people understood how tuberculosis is transmitted.”

It’s an apt intersection of interests. Linda said they were attracted to opera because of the text and music. Michael added that the disease in opera also fascinated them.