What I like about great operas is their ironic distance to life. Theater should never try to be naturalistic because it is by definition a play, and musical theater takes us into a fairy world where people sing instead of talking. Opera at its best tells comic or tragic stories playfully, that is with a loving smile. This is very true of all operas Mozart composed. His music makes fun of the story's characters, in a good-natured, understanding way. Also, Verdi's and Puccini's tragic arias heighten rage, despair and heartache far above ugly reality, turning the expression of those feelings into an invisible description of human weakness to which we can knowingly give a nod. When I mentioned this observation to an opera buff some time ago he was taken aback, almost offended. Most probably he was a Wagnerian.