Friday, January 28, 2011

Too Much Sex and Murder in Opera?

"More nonsense is talked about opera than any other single art form. It may be the nature of the form itself, all hysterics and extremes of passion. It may be that it remains a minority form, which is supposed to be refined and melodic. But the temptation to blow up its antics and its subjects into dramas themselves seems irresistible. 'Naughty girls' are indeed the stuff of opera. The work which started it all, Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea, of 1643, has as its heroine a woman who sleeps and murders her way to the top and, what's more, gets away with it at the end. Alban Berg's unfinished Lulu, first performed in 1938, is about a woman of primal lust who beds, is bedded by, and kills a succession of lovers until she is finally done away with by Jack the Ripper to the sound of some of the most romantic music ever composed. Four of the greatest works of the twentieth century – Leos Janacek's Jenufa of 1904, Alban Berg's Wozzeck first performed in 1925, Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1930), and Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes (1945) – have as their heroes, respectively, a soldier who stabs his wife to death out of jealousy and humiliation, a woman who poisons her wealthy but bullying older husband in favour of a younger lover and is then betrayed by him, a stepmother who drowns her stepdaughter's baby to clear the way for her marriage and a fisherman who arguably causes the death of his apprentice through his bullying."[Source]

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