Tagged: The Magic Flute

Five Operas with a Disturbing Perspective on Love

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.

1. Jenufa

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.

3. Turandot

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.

COC’s 2010-2011 Season: Exciting!

Back when my home company was four-per-year Edmonton Opera, the formula for their season planning was pretty easy to figure out. It typically consisted of:

  1. Gilbert & Sullivan in alternate years, with Mikado, Pinafore, and Pirates in rotation
  2. One of Puccini’s “big three” (Tosca, Boheme, Butterfly) alternating with popular Verdi or equivalent cash cow (Carmen)
  3. One generally well-liked but slightly less well-known opera (L’Elisir, Hoffmann, any Mozart comedy)
  4. One “challenge” (The Rake’s Progress, Bluebeard’s Castle)

For someone just getting into opera, as I was in the late 90′s, this season setup was actually pretty good – a chance to see the classics that had taught me to love the form, plus a toe in the waters of “difficult” operas. But as I listened to more recordings and attended more performances, I started to get tired of the same-old and yearned for a little more variety. The COC’s new season appears to be a delight – out of seven operas, the only two qualifying for “cash cow” status are Aida and The Magic Flute, and those are borderline cash cows anyway next to this season’s (dull) Butterfly.

So, what’s on the list?

Aida – I’ve seen this only once on stage, at Edmonton Opera in 1999-ish (or maybe twice? I might have gone to both the dress rehearsal and the “regular” performance for this one). The production involved an enormous golden eagle under which the principals cowered. I hope elephants will factor into the COC’s take.

Death in Venice – completely unfamiliar to me. I’m not the biggest Britten fan but will be excited to see this.

The Magic Flute – possibly my very first “favourite opera”, thanks to the Classical Kids cassette tape my mom bought for me as a young’un. I would start singing the Queen of the Night’s aria at various inappropriate moments. Despite this history, I still feel slightly annoyed when I see parents bringing their young children to “real” productions of this opera. There are long stretches with no dragons,  bird catchers, or beautiful sparkly star dresses, and I’m pretty sure my 8-year-old self would have been bored.

Nixon in China – AWESOME YAY


La Cenerentola – meh. I went through a Rossini phase and it’s mostly over now. Still, I’m glad to see a non-Barbiere Rossini pick.

Ariadne auf Naxos – This was the first opera I saw outside of Canada, in Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu. Edita Gruberova was Zerbinetta. It was part of a backpacker-style trip to Spain with two friends. Our seats were in the highest balcony, and we could only see half of the stage. The surtitles were in Catalan and Spanish, and I had only a vague idea of the plot. Still, it remains one of my most fondly-remembered operatic experiences. Having only seen opera in the not-acoustically-rich Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, I marveled at how the sound at the Liceu seemed to hang suspended in the air. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this again.

Orfeo ed Euridice – I’m usually bored by baroque opera (except when Opera Atelier is responsible). Still, someone has to do it. And people seem to like Isabel Bayrakdarian.