Thursday, March 06, 2014

How often is the Opera about Love/Sex?

Plots of the 100 most popular operas are primarily about love and/or sex:

Love with Happy Ending (spoiler alert)  (22+)

1.The Marriage of Figaro--the count is humiliated but Figaro gets the girl.
4.The Barber of Seville--Count gets the girl.
7.The Magic Flute--mystical side story, but boy gets girl.
13.The Abduction from the Seraglio--woman is rescued from harem.
14.Fidelio--Leonora saves Florestan.  The great married love opera.
20.Turandot--he answers the riddles and marries the princess.
21.The Merry Widow--who gets the rich widow?
23.Der Rosenkavalier--it ambiguously leaves the impression that Octavian and Sophie are a couple.
25.L'elisir d'amor--potion helps Nemorino work up the nerve.
26.Ariadne auf Naxos--Bacchus rescues Ariadne.
37.Don Pasquale--young man gets the girl.
42.Der Freischutz--magic bullets, hit the target, get the girl.
43.La Cenerentola--she marries the prince.
46.Orfeo ed Euridice--in this version Euridice returns to life.
48.Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg--the tenor gets the girl.
49.Orpheus in the Underworld
50.The Bartered Bride--girl gets the boy she wants.
59.The Daughter of the Regiment
62.Siegfried--love only comes in at the end.
63.La Vie parisienne
65.Zar und Zimmermann--love and politics.
68.The Mikado--two couples.

Love (or at least sex) with Unhappy Ending (33+)

2.Tosca--Mario and Tosca die.
3.Don Giovanni--Giovanni goes down in flames for too much sex.
5.La Bohème--Mimi dies.
6.La Traviata--Violetta dies.
9.Madame Butterfly--for her it's love, for him it's just sex.  She dies.
10.Rigoletto--see Butterfly.
11.Carmen--Carmen dies.  For him it's love, not sure about her.
15.Aïda--Aida and Rhadames both die.
16.The Flying Dutchman--she saves him but then she dies. ??
17.Salome--weird but sex nonetheless.  She dies.
18.Un ballo in maschera--King is assassinated because he loves his friend's wife.
19.The Tales of Hoffmann--multiple love affairs that all end unhappily.
27.Lucia di Lammermoor--Lucia kills her husband.
28.Eugene Onegin--two ships pass in the night.  They love but stay apart.
30.Otello--He kills her, then himself.
31.Il Trovatore--the count kills his brother.
32.Die Walkure--the twins fall in love.  Wotan betrays them.
34.Cavalleria rusticana--Turiddu dies.
35.I Pagliacci--clown kills his wife.
38.Manon--she dies.
39.Lohengrin--usually Elsa dies when Lohengrin leaves.
40.Das Rheingold--Alberich would have settled for a Rhine maiden.
47.Andrea Chénier--love amid political turmoil.
51.Gotterdammerung--everybody dies.
53.Adriana Lecouvreur--Adriana dies.
55.Katya Kabanova--heroine throws herself in the river.
56.Werther--hero kills self.
57.La forza del destino--Leonora dies.
60.Wozzeck--hero kills Maria.
64.The Queen of Spades--Liza commits suicide, Herman goes crazy.
72.Manon Lescaut--same as Manon
75.Tristan und Isolda--both die.
78.West Side Story--Tony dies.

Love but Not Really Sure if it's Happy or Unhappy (8)

8.Cosi fan tutte--women are like that.  Production determines ending.
22.Falstaff--he doesn't get the girls, but everything else is ok.  Production determines end.
29.Faust--religious context, Marguerite dies but goes to heaven.
36.Don Carlos--many subplots but main story is love.  Don Carlo has mysterious rescue.
54.Tannhäuser--people die but all is forgiven.
58.Simon Boccanegra--doge dies but man doesn't marry his granddaughter.
66.Jenufa--lovers are left alone, still not married.
67.Mefistofele--another Faust opera.

Not about Love (8)

12.Die Fledermaus--joke side story.  Love is secondary
24.Hansel and Gretel--too young for love or sex
33.Parsifal--religion, not sure what it's about, sex but not love.
41.Nabucco--religious politics.
44.Elektra--revenge killings.
45.La clemenza di Tito--politics, happy ending.
52.Boris Godunov--Russian politics
61.Macbeth--Scottish politics.

11% of the top 100 operas are not about love.  I got bored before I got to the end of this list, but I think I've proved my point.  Which was that by far the most popular operas are about love. 

Now let's examine our modern list.

Love with Happy Ending (4)

The Postman Always Rings Twice --unwanted husband is murdered.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene--he dies but then he comes back.
The ghosts of Versailles--I think the ending must be regarded as happy.
The Tempest--love is not the main story, but all ends happily.

Love (or at least sex) with Unhappy Ending (9)

L'Amour de Loin--exactly what the title says, love from afar.
Orphée--Orpheus plot.
The Letter--she gets away with murder but kills herself anyway.
The Great Gatsby--Gatsby is murdered.
Adriana Mater--ambiguous ending.
A Streetcar Named Desire--she goes to the nut house.
Anna Nicole--reality. 
Ainadamar--a great poet dies.
Sophie's Choice--woman chooses man who deserves her.

Not about Love (23)

The Women in the Garden--literature.
Harvey Milk--politics.
Einstein on the Beach--not sure what it's about.
The Martyrdom of saint Magnus--religion.
Le Grand Macabre--politics.
Lear--Ungrateful children.
The Red Line--politics.
The Village Singer--the love of singing.
Sweeney Todd--a profit making scheme.
King Harald's Saga--politics.
The Lighthouse--not sure what it's about.
Satyagraha--about Ghandi's political life.
Saint-François d'Assise--religion.
Nixon in China--politics.
Licht: die sieben Tage der Woche--I lumped them all together, not sure what they're about.
The Death of Klinghoffer--old man in wheelchair is thrown off of ship.
Dead Man Walking--man is executed.
The man who mistook his wife for a hat--an opera about a medical condition.
Dolores Claiborne--child abuse and murder.
Heart of a Soldier--the 9/11 opera.
The Minotaur--a half human monster kills and eats people.
Moby Dick--madman gets everyone killed.

There are many more operas that could be listed, but I think I have cited enough.  66% of modern operas are not about love.  The ratio of love to not love is now completely reversed.  What love we have is often grotesque and perverted.  Obviously these statistics are not scientific, and serve only to illustrate what is going on.

Jesus is given a sex life, but no one seems to realize that the others need this as well.  Which of these operas that are not about love will survive?  Sweeney Todd seems well on the way to immortality, but I don't hold out much hope for the rest.  I loved most Ainadamar and L'amour de loin, both love plots.

For all I know the older operas were also 66% not about love and disappeared forever from our view.  Why commission an opera that you know will disappear forever after it is presented?  Why spend all that time writing an opera only to have it disappear forever?  Maybe someone will come along that can answer this.

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