The Duet

One of my neighbours is an opera singer.

It’s nice to hear him practicing when I’m cooking spaghetti or having a shower. It adds an air of sophistication to any old domestic thing. Scrambling an egg becomes part of an opera.

Needless to say, if he happened to be a gangsta rapper or a Heavy Metal guitarist, I’d be the first one waving a telephone receiver around the room so that the residents’ association can hear what I’m complaining about.

That’s the kind of hypocrite I am. I tolerate highbrow noise pollution.

Sometimes he does simple scales and sometimes he sings a recognisable bit of Rigoletto. Sometimes, he’s accompanied by a female opera singer too. It’s really rather nice and gives the effect of living above the Teatro alla Scala or something.

So far as I’m aware, I’ve never physically seen the opera singer. But this is because I assume he looks like the insurance-selling corporate mascot, Geo Compario, when, for all I know he’s a tall, thin twelve-year-old and I’ve stood next to him in the elevator loads of times.

I also imagine he wears a full tuxedo at home, big French cuffs flapping about as he scrubs his crepe pan or brushes his teeth.

If his girlfriend is over, I think it’s natural for me to assume she’s dressed in full Brunhilde regalia, knocking things off the shelves with her pointy metal boobs.

Doing some delicate work on my book this afternoon, the male opera singer started up. As I say, I usually enjoy his through-the-wall operatic excursions, but on this occasion found it extremely irritating. I’m working on a chapter of heart-breaking genius about bellybutton fluff and it’s hard to concentrate with a lusty baritone bellowing through the ducts.

When a neighbour plays music too loudly, I’m lead to believe, the traditional response is to turn your own music up. Since I wasn’t playing music, I decided to sing back.

Belting out an inexpert scale, I was alarmed by the sound that came out of me. It was terrifying.

My neighbour, likewise, had been stunned into silence. He hadn’t been expecting that. It was like when you bark at a dog. He doesn’t know what’s going on.

Satisfied, I returned to my work.

But then he started up again, dare I suggest it, with added verve.

So I sang back. Unfortunately, I don’t know any opera lyrics so I could only make an inexpert opera-sounding noise. LAAAAAAAAAAAR!

He stopped for a moment but came back, this time undoubtedly louder. It was fucking war.

I belted out an improvised song, calculated to wound, to the tune of the famous bit in Carmen:

My wife is sexy,
My wife is fair,
Your wife’s a harridan
With purple hair.

Silence. I pictured him standing on his pretentious hearthrug, dumbfounded. Of course, I knew he’d come back. He was just getting his shit together.

As predicted, the opera singer retorted with something unaltered from Madame Butterfly. Hah. He may have been the superior singer but his ad-lib skills were nothing on mine.

I cleared my throat, rolled up my sleeves up and to the Carmen tune again, I sang:

Life is delicious,
And life is nice,
When Alain de Botton,
Gives you good advice.

I have no idea why those words came to me. I think the human brain contains a valve, which, for some reason, I’ve been blessed with the ability to loosen.

There was momentary silence as my neighbour doubtless came to terms with the fact that I’d handed him his arse.

But then he was off again. With a fucking aria.

My knowledge of opera is sorely limited. Back in 2012, however, I wrote a book in which a comedian would “deploy the opera device” as a way of dealing with hecklers. He’d bring a Valkyrie on from the wings and, a mezzo-soprano, she’d sing things like “You’re a cunting, cunting, cunting, cunting CUNT!” and “You remind meeeee of chemotherapiiiiiee.”

So that’s what I did. I did my best impression of Lore Lixenberg and sang, “Please shut up, shut up, shutupshutupshutUP! ShutyourholeorI’lldoyouwithaspachelor!”

It was around this time, I see now, that I lost any moral high ground I might have had.

There came a knock at the door.

Needless to say, I am writing this from under the bed.

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