Tate_03-2019
The Music Column

Opera Without Meaning

Last year, in a January 3 review published by the Daily Telegraph, Hannah Furness made some remarkable assertions concerning the presentation of traditional operas on the modern stage.  Furness quoted the tenor Michael Fabiano, then playing the Duke in a Royal Opera House production of Rigoletto, to the effect that “the treatment of women in productions should better reflect the modern world.”  Fabiano added that “even opera set 500 years ago can be adapted to suit modern society.”  His comment was quoted by way of a preface to further remarks by Furness about a 2018 Florentine production of Bizet’s Carmen, which changed its ending to protest violence against women in Italy.  In that version, Carmen kills Don José, inverting the usual denouement.

Rigoletto and Carmen have more in common than the abuse of women.  As used to be known by informed people who read books, both the Verdi and the Bizet operas were based on narratives crafted by great French writers many years ago.  And as was known in the modern world of the 19th century, there was no justification, asserted or implied, of any abuse of women.

We are talking about the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo, on the one hand, and the novella Carmen by Prosper Mérimée, on the other.  Was there abuse of women in the stories...

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