In my last post, I talked about prostitutes, psychos and tuberculosis. In this one, I will discuss various violent means by which operatic characters meet their ends. Some of these would make the ID Channel look like Sesame Street.
Are you ready for this?
A Stabbing, a Firing Squad and a Jump
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
A mean, evil, sadistic and repulsive but sexy* police chief named Scarpia is on the tail of an idealistic, brave and romantic painter named Mario. The idealistic, brave and romantic painter named Mario is in love with a gorgeous opera star with a jealous streak worse than Othello’s and a temper to match. Her name is Tosca. In other words, again we have a psycho, but this time it’s a woman.
There are no prostitutes in this opera, but the painter and the singer have a hot thing going for free. A lot goes on in Mario’s place, mostly wild monkey sex. We don’t see any of that, though, because the first act takes place in church, and the rest of the opera is mostly about torture, sexual power games, murder – things that make people want to sing beautiful music at the top of their lungs.
The evil police chief arrests Mario, tortures him a little, and tells Tosca that he will let Mario go if she will stick around and give him a good time. Tosca stabs him to death to teach him a lesson. She meets Mario the next morning, in the jail where he has a date with a firing squad. You see, this is supposed to be a fake execution, in return for the tumble Tosca was supposed to give Scarpia, which he never got because she stabbed him instead. Anyway, it turns out that Scarpia was lying (the jerk!) and Mario gets shot to death for real. Tosca decides that if everyone else is dead she might as well be, too, and she climbs up onto the wall of the jail and jumps.
Opera: Madama Butterfly
Composer: Giacomo Puccini again
Only one person dies in this opera, and it isn’t the one the audience wishes would die.
An arrogant, overprivileged, thoughtless, racist ass of an American naval lieutenant named B.F. Pinkerton marries a young, teenaged Japanese geisha named Butterfly, or Cio Cio San. Butterfly doesn’t know what an arrogant, overprivileged, thoughtless, racist ass she has married, and she really loves the creep. Pinkerton stays around long enough to knock Butterfly up, then he sails away again. Three years later, he comes back, bringing with him his new American wife. Butterfly figures that two women in the same house sharing the same man won’t work, so she makes her exit in true Japanese tradition – with a knife. Pinkerton is sorry for being a jerk, but that doesn’t do anyone much good, especially Butterfly, who is dead.
In addition to the above examples, you have Bizet’s Carmen, which ends up (again) with the leading lady being skewered by a knife, this time held by the leading man. There is also Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore, in which the leading lady takes poison, the leading man is beheaded (offstage, of course) and the leading man’s mother is about to be burned at the stake.
Somebody usually dies in an opera. Sometimes two people die. Having three people die is a bit over the top, but when the characters are as stupid, crazy or obnoxious as they are in Il Trovatore, it can be a relief to get rid of three of them. I have seen an audience applaud when Scarpia got stabbed in Act II of Tosca (an audience of teenagers – what do you expect?), but the Alfred Hitchcock-type ending is only saved by the music, the suspense, and the fact that it happens so fast the audience doesn’t have time to get all sad and everything.
*That’s because the role is written for a baritone, and baritones are naturally sexy, even the ugly ones.