This time, the heroine is not the tragic victim
The most striking part in “Spare”, Prince Harry’s 416-page confessional autobiography, may be the contrast between his emotional incontinence — the repetitive iterations of every detail of his trauma — while his wife remains notably composed. From the moment she appears in his life (at Soho House in 2016, when Harry finally meets her, sweaty and flustered because heavy traffic made him half an hour late: already a supplicant to the woman he immediately thinks “perfect, perfect, perfect!”) to the decision of their joint departure, she is a cool anchor to his angst-tossed sense of self; and remains so even when he portrays her being relentlessly chased by paparazzi or crying helplessly on the floor of their house.
We see it all through Harry’s eyes: he appears, not least to himself, as both culprit and victim, the reason for his wife’s distress and for being his mother’s son. He presents himself as cause and target and torturer all at once, as if investing the woman he loves with the attributes of the mother he lost.
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It’s Harry’s self-destruction, from drugs, booze, extreme sports, sibling fisticuffs and confessional dictation (to the Pulitzer Prize winner novelist J.P. Moehringer, who deserves every cent of that reported $5m ghostwriting contract) that fascinates us. “Spare” is a post-Puccini tale, but it’s also a feminist one, in which the woman, no longer the victim, flips every narrative trope upside down: The One Where Butterfly Takes Pinkerton Back Home. Meghan, the saviour heroine, changes the lines of every femme perdue (or fatale). She’s Violetta kicking out Germont and grabbing Alfredo for keeps; she’s Carmen taking over the smugglers’ business and running it while José ambles about the (Californian) mountain caves with a yoga mat; she’s Marguerite coolly considering Faust’s pact with the Devil, and raising the price to $20 million plus serial rights.
Opera is paroxysmal by essence, and so is Harry’s sequential lament, interview after interview, each with new variations on his grand aria of woe — each a tentative answer to the riddles that will make him worthy of marrying Turandot (keeping Meghan?) To CBS’s Anderson Cooper, he accuses his stepmother Camilla, an unlikely Queen of the Night figure, as “dangerous” with “a long-term plan to reach the Crown”. To ITV’s Tom Bradby, he denies having accused his family of “racism” (only “subconscious bias”) when facing Oprah Winfrey’s cameras. With Steven Colbert, he riffs on frozen appendages. Much has been made of the spite in his “revelations”, but they’re provisional, uneasy, the only way Harry could find purchase as his new trajectory unfolds. The justification for his suffering, which is undeniable: being dragged aged 12 from the Balmoral to find himself surrounded by photographers in front of Buckingham Palace as he walked behind his mother’s coffin is a horrible image.But having alienated everyone but his wife, what will Harry do for an encore?
To every interviewer, the Prince over the water protests between clenched teeth that he is living his best life, the one he wants. His face and body language say the opposite. He is at the third act of “Spare: The Opera”: the one where happiness seems within reach, where Othello will be satisfied with Desdemona’s protests of fidelity, where Lohengrin marries Elsa, and when Eurydice is following Orfeo back up to the light. We all know, however, how it ends.