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OPERATIC DEATHS

OPERA IS DRAMATIC. There’s little reason to expect operatic deaths to be anything resembling natural causes. Here are tidbits of demise from several operas, the plots described in Sir Denis Forman’s entertaining A Night at the Opera.

Flower Power. There’s nothing out of the ordinary (nor unjustified) in Scarpia’s death through stabbing at the end of Act II in Puccini’s Tosca. Except when the prop person forgets to provide the knife on Scarpia’s desk along with the quill pen and paper, inkwell, a bowl of fruit, and a vase of flowers.

As described here at SimanaitisSays in “Opera Chaos, Act III,” when that Tosca realized the knife wasn’t there, she simply grabbed a flower from the vase and stabbed Scarpia with its stem.

The conclusion of Act II, Tosca, in a pre-1914 Metropolitan Opera production.

Accidental Immolation. In another production, Scarpia could have perished by fire, for real: As Tosca somberly arranged candles around his corpse, she accidentally lit Scarpia’s wig.

Immolation by Design. And, of course, immolation is the accepted means of demise for Brünnhilde at the conclusion of the fourth opera in Wagner’s Ring Cycle: She rides her horse Grane into Siegfried’s funeral pyre.

Siegfried is her lover and nephew too, but who’s to judge?

Brünnhilde and Grane in the immolation scene, Götterdammerung, Act II, Scene 5.

Has PETA objected to all this horsing around? Not to my knowledge. Maybe because everything is destroyed in Götterdammerung, so what the hell?

Going to Hell, Big Time. Sir Denis characterizes Mozart’s Don Giovanni as “The one where the Don has already scored 1965 before the opera begins and makes four further attempts in the course of it before being consigned to hell.”

Don Giovanni, as portrayed by baritone Francisco d’Andrade, 1912. Portrait by Max Slevogt

And consigned to hell he is, in Act II, Scene 5. You’d think the opera is over, but Mozart had censors to contend with, and there’s a smarmy Epilogue with the rest of the principals prattling on about “Next time I’ll work for a nicer boss” and “I’ll find a more honest BBF” and the like.

Faust Too? Sir Denis describes Gounod’s Faust as “The one where elderly Doctor Faust does a deal with the devil to be transformed into a young man with far-reaching consequences.”

You’d think that after Marguerite is ultimately welcomed into heaven, Faust (who done her wrong) would share Don Giovanni’s fate. But no. In Gounod’s Faust, no more mention is made of the elderly doctor. And in a similar retelling in Boito’s Mefistofele, Faust’s last-minute Bible-grab evokes a celestial choir singing about redemption.

However, there’s none of this redemption jazz in Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus: At the end of the play, Satan comes to fetch his soul, not to say the rest of the doctor as well.

Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

In one Elizabethan production, an even dozen actor-devils were to encircle Faustus—but in one fateful performance, thirteen devils were onstage.

The Buoso Donati Role. Even a natural death gives rise to unnatural goings-on operatically: Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is a farcical comedy, “The one,” Sir Denis says, “where a dead man dictates a will which disappoints every single member of his family.”

How can a dead man dictate a will? Buoso’s friend and neighbor Gianni Schicchi knows how…. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

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