Marriage is a managed retreat from ideas of pure independence and self-expression

"The casting was ready made," said one critic. "Verdi's perfect couple," read the headline over another paper's notice. The work under discussion was the Royal Opera House's La Traviata, a production which offered feature writers and reviewers an extra frisson besides Verdi's musical climaxes, because Angela Gheorghiu, who sang the role of Violetta, and Roberto Alagna, who took the part of Alfredo, her callow young lover, are married in real life. For several writers this clearly conferred on the performances an extra stamp of authenticity. "He sings radiantly," wrote one critic of Alagna, "finding, understandably enough, a natural bond with Gheorghiu as they express their mutual devotion." Well, you often find what you look for in art, so it's possible that a sentimental glow coloured his vision, a more intellectual version of the involuntary coo old ladies give when they pass a wedding (though it's only fair to point out that his judgement was shared by others). It's also possible that he doesn't actually know what it is like to be married, opera reviewing not being a famously uxorious profession.

In which case he could be forgiven for not grasping that a real-life marriage might be a hindrance to the depiction of a fictional infatuation rather than a help. If this sounds glumly disenchanted, it isn't intended to (I am married and I like my kneecaps where they are). But the truth is that marriage and romance agreed to an amicable separation a long ago. They meet up from time to time, naturally - sometimes they even bump into each other unexpectedly, and let themselves get carried away. But they find it virtually impossible to keep house together, with its modest tasks of maintenance, the dull husbandry of everyday life. What a good marriage offers - emotional shelter, a durable, crafted love - generally has to be paid for in the currency of romantic passion - intoxication, obsession, breathlessness, the marvel that you should have met.

Now, it might be that two busy performing artists - often working in different continents and meeting only when their schedules permit - can preserve the latter qualities in a marriage for longer than couples who sleep every night under the same roof (though the history of celebrity marriages actually suggests otherwise - that absence makes the heart grow wayward). But it may be a fallacy anyway that real love can inform a performed love, the elaborate dance of gesture and look by which passion is telegraphed to an audience. Going home with your co-star only adds another weight to the peculiar burden of feeling that actors must drag behind them, their professional requirement to experience the same emotion at the same moment, night after night.

When real relationships inform fictional ones it is likely to be much more accidental or contradictory than a marriage can afford. The smouldering connection between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not draws some of its force from the fact that the couple fell in love during the filming - it looks as if they can barely keep their hands off each other because, by and large, that was true at the time. And while affection helps in this respect, it isn't exactly indispensable - the feral, dangerous lovemaking of Oliver Reed and Glenda Jackson in Ken Russell's Women in Love gains something from the fact that the actors soon discovered that they were in the grip of a passionate and reciprocated repulsion. Loathing can look oddly like lust, if the context is right.

When marriage genuinely works for actors, on the other hand, the virtues that you see on screen are unlikely to be those of young love or infatuation. In the film of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's performances are surely informed by the scars of real combat. For viewers at the time, aware that Taylor's marriages were somewhat fragile constructions, there was the titillating thrill of possibility; for later viewers those hellish scenes can be taken as an on-screen rehearsal for a performance that was to take place in private. But bickering can also take more benign forms; the long partnership of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn delivers a good example of performances which acknowledge the truth of a long relationship - that it cements itself by what can appear rather dyspeptic to outsiders, that marriage is a managed retreat from ideas of pure independence or pure self-expression. Their mastery of companionable skirmishing - which implies some shared wounds and willing surrenders - is a far better model for what marriage delivers to a performance.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?