This post is inspired by a series cooked up by my boyfriend…with a Puccini’s Chronicles twist. Thanks, honey!
It goes without saying that the current U.S. Presidential administration has sparked a revolution in more ways than one. It seems that, now more than ever, people are getting in touch with the neo-women’s rights movement. And judging by the #MeToo overtones of last night’s Golden Globes ceremony…it’s clear that the entertainment industry is right in the thick of it.
The opera community is no exception. (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
In a world where sopranos die for their men and mezzos often play male roles…classic operatic works are being looked at through a new lens. Decades ago, Cio-Cio San (the protagonist of Madama Butterfly) might have been seen as a victim, committing suicide in the wake of her lover’s abandonment. However, closer analysis of the libretto reveals that Cio-Cio had the most power of all. Her death was the only act that could ensure her son would live a better life than she could provide.
Another case study: the Metropolitan Opera is putting up a brand new production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte this year, starring Broadway favorite Kelli O’Hara as Despina. Described as a “comedy of the sexes,” this presentation of the piece has been reset to Coney Island in the 1950s. The very title is translated as “Women are like that.” Despite Cosi fan tutte being written over 200 years ago, its themes of female human nature and gender dynamics are as relevant as ever.
But perhaps the most explicit example of opera’s “sign o’ the times” can be found at the Teatro del Maggio Musicale in Italy. Their new presentation of Bizet’s Carmen actually changes the ending; in the original libretto, Carmen declares that she is a free woman before being murdered by the jealous, jilted Don Jose. The director at Teatro, Leo Muscato- seeking to make a statement about violence against women- is having his Carmen find a pistol with which she saves herself from Don Jose.
In conclusion: Even if the plot of a classic opera isn’t changed, the way a modern audience interprets it certainly will. So long as social problems pervade, they will continue to affect the eye with which people view their favorite art forms.