This post is in honour of the day after Valentine’s day, when discounted heart-boxed candy is snatched up by drugstore vultures and lovers wake up with hangovers from last night’s mediocre champagne and lacklustre sex. Here are five operas with strange, ugly, disturbing warts on the face of their romanticism.
Laca loves Jenufa, but she’s in love with the handsomer Steva. Laca solves the issue by slashing Jenufa’s face so Steva won’t want her any more. Sure enough, it works! Steva soon leaves Jenufa despite having knocked her up, and one drowned baby later, Jenufa and Laca are married in an ending meant to be redemptive.
2. Cosi fan Tutte
We’re told right at the beginning that any woman will be unfaithful to her man if given the opportunity and a sufficiently compelling prospect, and the remainder of the opera is spent proving this hypothesis. Why do Guglielmo and Ferrando work so strenuously to inflict cruelty on their loved ones, not to mention lose their own wager? All in service of the pursuit of Truth, dear reader.
Calaf sees Turandot and immediately is stricken senseless by love, despite the fact that she’s determined not to marry, and in the habit of publicly executing her suitors. He even prefers the bloodthirsty princess to Liu, the representative of Innocent Womanhood whose sole plot function is to martyr herself for a love that isn’t returned and barely noticed (see below).
Calaf and Turandot’s eventual love scene is tinged with rape-like overtones. Turandot’s capitulation comes with these words:
o stranger, when you came,
I felt with anguish
the irresistible thrill
of this greatest of all sicknesses.
How many have I seen die for me!
And I despised them; but I feared you!
4. The Magic Flute
True love can only be fully attained through a series of initiation rites. The first: don’t speak to any woman, even your beloved, even if she threatens to kill herself. The second: play your magic flute while walking through water and fire. It also comes with some helpful life lessons.
Men: women are out to get you. Be afraid.
Women: submit to the judgement of your men.
5. La Gioconda
Consider the decisions made by various characters in the opera:
- If your heartthrob nobleman-in-disguise loves another woman, consider stabbing her to death. Unless it turns out she saved your mom’s life a while ago; in that case you should actually go to unreasonable lengths to not only save her life but set her up with your man in a gesture of self-sacrifice. Before you kill yourself, of course.
- If you discover your wife has been cheating on you, insist that she poison herself. Then hand her some poison and leave her alone to drink it. Certainly her suicide will go as planned, right?
- If you’re discovered conducting a tryst on your boat with another man’s wife, the best thing to do is set your boat on fire.