Thursday, June 16, 2011

Men in Power, or Tonight's Opera Talk

Tonight I am one of three panelists taking part in the discussion "Sex, Guilt, and The Diva" in the Dallas Opera's summer subscriber series. We are focusing specifically on La Traviata and Katya Kabanova.

My role, as explained to me, is to be the theatre expert (both plays are based on 19th-century dramas) and to offer feminist insight. I was told we want our discussion to be informative but not academic, and fun. All of which is great, and right up my alley.

Facts: La Traviata, Giuseppi Verdi's 1859 opera, was based on Alexandre Dumas fils' novel/play La Dame aux Camellias (usually referred to as Camille,which was in turn the title of the 1936 film starring Greta Garbo base don Dumas's novel/play). All versions focus on a courtesan who falls in love with a young, middle-class man and leaves her demi-monde life behind. In turn, his father comes to her and begs Marguerite/Violetta/Camille to set the young man free for the sake of his family's honor; she agrees, and returns to her old life, just in time to die from consumption (tuberculosis).

Katya Kabanova, Leos Janacek's 1920 opera is based on Alexander Ostrovsky's 1860 play The Storm. One of Ostrovsky's social dramas, the play and opera tell the story of Katya, a young wife who is bullied by her mother-in-law and her husband. She loves a neighbor and, while her husband is away, is tempted to meet the lover at night, which her mother-in-law discovers. When her husband returns, Katya confesses in front of all the neighbors, and then drowns herself in the Volga.

Verdi's opera is much more "traditional" in its structure and the style of the music. It is the second most performed opera worldwide (The Magic Flute is #1, and also part of this year's season in the Big D). Both operas dervive from plays that are, surprisingly, critiques of middle-class values, even while the middle-class values triumph. Both women die--one from consumption (a wasting disease) and one from suicide (derived from the guilt of adultery). Both plays and operas openly depict the double standard about sexuality for men and women, as well as the reality of women's limited opportunities.

Both are about doomed love, as well, which is, of course, the central draw for many spectators, as well as the gorgeous music.

I'll tell more about this tomorrow... but it has made me think about our recent news items about "men in power," since both authority, sexuality, and middle-class values seem to be a common thread.

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