Tuesday, October 15, 2019

MeToo Operas

This has to be regarded as a short list of operas about the oppression of women by powerful men, the basic theme of the MeToo movement.  There is no order.  In our own era the powerful men are generally employers.  If I am paying you money, I can do what I want with you.  In the past it was more a case of members of the Lordly class assuming that everyone in a lower class could be abused at will.

Rigoletto by Verdi is rather an unusual case.  The Duke is the person of highest rank in the story, but he seems to be completely indiscriminate in his choices of women to prey on.  In the court all the ladies seem to be targets, even wives of his main subordinates.  If their husbands object, they are banned from the court.  These wives are the only true MeToo characters I have found, but they aren't enough for the Duke.  He wanders the streets in disguise looking for women who would never come into the court.  The Duke successfully pretends to be lower class when pursuing Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter.  Maddalena from the last act is a professional and therefore does not count as exploited.  Strangely, he seems to like her best.  We begin a pattern when it is the exploited Gilda who dies and not the exploiter Duke. Unlike the standard MeToo victim, she loves the man who has exploited her and offers her own death to save him.

Tosca by Puccini involves a man in a position of political power who has something to offer a famous woman, not his employee.  Tosca is not the sort of woman to allow herself to be used sexually and instead kills her would be tormentor before he has a chance to do anything.  At the end she also dies.  We could hardly ask any of our MeToo women to do these things.

Il Trovatore by Verdi may not count.  This is more your love story plot.  A count loves Leonora, one of his subjects who would actually make a suitable mate.  The count frowns and looks unhappy all the time.  She instead loves a gypsy who sings love songs to her.  The count doesn't get his way and kills them.  Everyone dies.  I'm not sure if this fits the MeToo scenario.  We can't go around requiring people to die to avoid sex.

Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart involves a married count who was the hero of another opera earlier in his life, but now has lost interest in his wife.  She expected happily ever after but instead got this.  His current interest is in one of his wife's servants, Susanna.  This is sort of a Downton Abbey plot.  In Downton Abbey one of the daughters is interested in and marries the chauffeur.  In Nozze Susanna is engaged to the Count's valet, Figaro.  The count has two kinds of power in this situation:  he can deny them the right to marry at all and/or he can revive the ancient right of the Lord to sleep with the bride of a servant.  The women plot against him and win in the end.  Everyone lives happily ever after at last. This is a successful thwarting of the MeToo scenario.

Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss involves a father with money wanting to acquire a royal title by marrying his daughter to a baron.  Someone not part of either side of this transaction, Octavian, intervenes to prevent the marriage.  He could not accomplish this without the help of his girlfriend The Marschallin.  Again we may presume a happy ending.  It seems that Count Octavian will marry the heiress instead of the baron.  This is another instance of exploitation thwarted.

Luisa Miller by Verdi describes a young nobleman who wanders around the countryside in disguise looking for girls, very much like the Duke in Rigoletto or the King in La Donna del Lago.  He knows that makes him a shit, but does it anyway.  Unlike other operas, both the exploiter and the exploited die.  Does no one explain to these nobles that they are required to marry in their class?  In the modern world this hardly makes a plot.  Prince Harry married an American actress.

This is turning out to be interesting.  Our opera stories must be regarded as in praise of women.  Except for the wives at court who may be roughly comparable to employees who could lose their status, our purported victims resort to murder, self-sacrifice, and plotting to avoid any actual sexual exploitation. 

Don Giovanni by Mozart may possibly represent the usual MeToo story.  During the opera the Don pursues Donna Anna, Zerlina, and an unknown woman seen through the window.  He flees Donna Elvira since he no longer is interested in her.  Leporello explains to Donna Elvira that she is just one in a long line of lovers.  Afterward Anna goes to Ottavio.  Zerlina returns to her new husband and begs him to beat her.  We aren't exactly sure what happens to the Don at the end, but I think he is supposed to end up in hell.  Has anyone lost anything?  The Don kills Anna's father who in the end gets his revenge.  The women presumably give in because they are genuinely interested in Giovanni, though it is possible that Donna Elvira thinks she is his wife.  It's too complicated to draw any general conclusions.

This turned out to be more revealing than I imagined.

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