What is the significance of the opera in Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because of the racial and sexual themes in Disgrace, David Lurie's opera serves as a metaphor for his own inability to communicate honestly with the women he meets. In the beginning of the novel, Lurie sleeps with a student in a moment of passion; the student reacts by shutting off, as if she expects the act as a necessary part of her schooling but doesn't want to think about it. In contrast, Lurie's opera involves a woman of great passion and a man who is losing interest:

That is how he imagined it: as a chamber-play about love and death, with a passionate young woman and a once passionate but now less than passionate older man; as an action with a complex, restless music behind it...
(Coetzee, Disgrace, Google Books)

His opera shows that he lives more in his fantasy world than in reality; the women he meets are passionless, while he is almost feverish in his intensity. However, since his intensity is largely in his own mind, he tries to purge it through the opera; he assumes things about his own reactions that are not true in reality, such as the student's own ardor for him. Since he cannot be honest, and cannot fully understand why others do not share his feelings, the opera acts as an Id of sorts, allowing his unconscious fantasies to emerge.