Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tenors Behaving Badly

As I drove about my day today, the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast offered up Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.  Puccini (1858 - 1924) wrote beautiful music.  He had patrons and commercial success.  He had his choice among the best possible stories, and the most talented librettists with whom to tell his stories.  Why did he single out lead roles for men behaving badly?  Tune in and listen to the glorious melodies.  Think about what is happening.  In Madama Butterfly U.S. Navy lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton comes ashore in Japan and succumbs to the ministrations of lovely geisha Cio-Cio San aka Madame Butterfly.  In a cruel deception, he marries her, understanding that there is no legal obligation associated with the union.  His lust for soft light, soft skin and a subservient sex partner overcome any self control he might have learned at the Naval Academy.  The union ends badly with a child whom he takes from the heart broken Butterfly who chooses honor over shame and eviscerates herself with her father's sword.  The world was introduced to this cad in 1904.  Eighteen years later Puccini outdid himself when he introduced Calef, exiled Prince of Tartary in Turnadot.  Calef falls in love with Turnadot, the cold, vengeful and very mixed up Princess of Peking. In the climax of Act III he stands by to watch his father's faithful servant Liu tortured because she would not reveal his name.  What kind of man would  do that?  He is so taken with himself and the mystery he has introduced into the court of Peking that he sings an ode to himself, "Nessun Dorma" (meaning "no one sleeps" in which he refers to the mad search for clues to his real name).  Ironically, this beautiful aria sung at the height of conceit by Calef, was sung by the most unassuming contestant on Britain's Got Talent in 2007.  If you missed Paul Potts, and the electrifying reaction to his voice, feast your ears and grab a hanky.

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