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OPERA’S SEVEN DEADLY SINS

THE METROPOLITAN OPERA’S MONTHLY OPERA NEWS features Henry Stewart’s “Operapedia,” wherein he chooses a topic and expands it around operatic themes. His January 2023 theme is the Seven Deadly Sins. Here are tidbits on his choices together with my usual Internet and personal sleuthing. 

Origins. According to Wikipedia, an original array of nine logismoi arose from the neoplatonic teaching of the school of Alexandria; these conveniently split into three aspects, physical, emotional, and mental. The fourth-century monk Evagrius Ponticus reduced the nine logismoi to eight: Gluttony, Lust, Avarice, Sadness, Wrath, Dejection, Boasting, and Pride. Then, in 590 A.D., Pope Gregory I (long before the calendar reform’s Gregory XIII) reduced the list to seven.

Not that people were becoming less sinful, mind. Gregory just combined Sadness with Dejection and called them “Sloth,” folded Boasting into “Pride,” and added “Envy” to round out the seven. For my virtuous (and orderly) readers I list them alphabetically: Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth, and Wrath. 

By the way, I also recall the Seven Dwarfs’ Word Game.

On to Opera. I stray from the point. Here are tidbits about the Seven Deadly Sins from “Operapedia.” 

Lust. You’d think there would be healthy competition for this one. But Don Giovanni earns it er… hands down. As Stewart writes, he’s “tearing through conquests, from peasants to baronesses, all recorded in Leporello’s catalogue.”

Don Giovanni. This and the following images from Opera News.

A memorable German production had Don toting around a statue of the Virgin Mary with a handle built into its back. 

Envy. Here, Stewart diverts into the theatrics of Amadeus, the play and wonderful flick focusing on Antonio Salieri’s alleged envy for Mozart’s God-given talents.

Stewart writes, “The rumormongering inspired Pushkin to write a play, Mozart and Salieri, which Rimsky-Korsakov made into an opera. Later, Peter Schaffer wrote Amadeus, casting Salieri as profoundly, homicidally jealous of his rival, a kind of pop-cultural character assassination.” 

As the Italians say, si non e vero e ben trovato. Stewart also cites The New Yorker adding “The two were [actually] more colleagues than rivals.”

Gluttony. Stewart quotes from the Los Angeles Times: Offstage and off camera, superstar tenor Mario Lanza “had an insatiable appetite for food, liquor, and women, all of which he abused with shocking insensibility.”

Evidently there’s traditional competition for this one: Consider the adage “The opera ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.” 

Greed. “In The Inferno,” Stewart writes, “Dante places Gianni Schicchi in hell for impersonating the deceased Buoso Donati to claim his fortune. (Dante was married to a Donati; it was probably family score-settling.)…. Puccini thought it sounded pretty funny, and his one-act farce (seen at the Met in 2009) fills the stage with the greediest family in opera, each trying to get a piece of Donati’s fortune.” 

Pacific Opera Project’s 2020 production of Gianni Schicchi.

The Met’s was a good romp. So was the version performed by Pacific Opera Project in January 2020.

Pride. Stewart notes that the Met describes Eugene Onegin as “a timeless story of love, yearning and tragic consequences of youthful pride.” 

The late Dmitri Hvorostovsky is remembered for his portrayal of Onegin.

Stewart sums it up: Onegin “rejects a woman’s love, kills his best friend in a petty dual, and wanders Europe before returning to realize, hey, he really did love that lady! But she’s married now. As the proverb goes, ‘pride precedes a fall…’ ” 

Wrath. There are plenty of wrathful opera scenes, and Stewart chooses an impressive one from Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda: the confrontation between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth I. 

Elizabeth sings, “Her pompous spirit inspires a furor in me!” But Mary gets the best wrath: “Impure daughter of Boleyn… Unworthy and obscene harlot… the English throne is defiled!”

Elza van den Heever, Queen Elizabeth I, and Sondra Radvanovsky, Mary, Queen of Scots. Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, the Met 2016. 

Sondra Radvanovsky’s Mary was particularly wrathful, albeit in signing her own death warrant.

Sloth. Stewart notes that composer Gioachino Rossini “had a reputation for indolence…. One legend has it that while composing a duet in bed, he dropped the pages on the floor; unable to reach them, he simply wrote a new duet.” 

Gioachino Antonion Rossini, 1792–1868, Italian composer of 39 operas, retired from composing more for the last 40 years of his life.

Now that’s sloth. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2023

One comment on “OPERA’S SEVEN DEADLY SINS

  1. Keith Jackson
    January 10, 2023

    It’s interesting that Pope Gregory removed dejection from the list. perhaps he realized the low spirits were a possible, if not inevitable, result if one entirely avoided the seven remaining vices.

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