From The Age today: Killing women for art? Opera’s 2020 death toll might surprise. Comes with the picture above. This is how it starts.
At the Palais this week Salome looked like she was doing so well. Singing her heart out, John the Baptist’s head in her arms, Herod humiliated, mum proud. Suddenly the king bellowed the command “Man töte dieses Weib” – “kill this woman”. Slain. Final curtain.
A debate gathering steam in the opera world questions whether the art form is at core misogynistic, patriarchal and oppressive, and in need of reform. So The Age decided to check the body count on Melbourne opera stages in 2020 to see if women come off worse than men. The result (spoiler alert) may surprise.
First, the case for the prosecution. Take a roll call of some of the greatest and most-performed masterpieces. Tosca: jumps off a castle, dead. Carmen: stabbed by a jealous lover, dead. Butterfly: humiliated, stabs herself, dead. Violetta (La Traviata) and Mimi (La Boheme): dead, both by tuberculosis. Liu in Turandot: stabs herself after being tortured, dead. Gilda in Rigoletto: stabbed and stuffed in a sack, dead. Salome: dead. Norma: dead. Lucia di Lammermoor: dead.
So just have a closer look at the picture. Why it’s none other than the head of John the Baptist held aloft by Salome having herself sought his death from the king for having undertaken the Dance of the Seven Veils as her side of the bargain. Mere background detail, there just to move the plot along.
The sentimentality of all forms of art, best expressed by the line-up for the lifeboats on a sinking ship, women and children first, means the death of men is just so it goes. It’s their lot in life. The final stat in the column is that this year eleven men have died on stage but only three women. But no story line I know of makes the death of some male the emotional centre of the plot. As for women, that’s a different story altogether.