Killing men for art

Victorian Opera's Salome, Vida Miknevičiūtė

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.

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11 Responses to Killing men for art

  1. cuckoo

    Yes, Tosca kills herself, but only after she has stabbed the villainous Baron Scarpia, so it’s 1-1.

  2. ACTOldFart

    And Cavadarossi gets tortured by Scarpia’s henchmen and treacherously shot by firing squad, so its actually 2.5 to 1 in Tosca. Whoops, forgot, Angelotti also kills himself, so its Men 3.5 Women 1

  3. areff

    What Cavaradossi gets no sympathy? Poor bugger

  4. Nob

    I thought she brought the head in a plate?

    I’ve only seen one opera, Evgeny Onegin in St Petersburg.
    What did you think? said my Russian hosts.

    “They shot the wrong bloke”

    My Russian engineer colleague slept through most of it then played with his phone.

  5. One day women will realise we’ve given them everything they have.

  6. Porter

    Dance of the seven veils? Huh?

  7. Herodotus

    There should be an opera for our times, perhaps based on international diplomacy. It could feature the dance of the seven veiled threats.

  8. Herodotus

    Back in the naughty 1990s there was a stadium performance of Verdi’s Aida. The grand parade was a stunner, with a lot of ladies in next to nothing, and they weren’t even protesting about something or other.

  9. Herodotus

    That was in Canberra, I should have mentioned.

  10. Mother Lode

    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.

    Perhaps among people who natter about art.

    People who love art will believe the message to be universal and timeless – not bound to place, time, race or gender.

    How stupid are these people. And worse, how stupid do they think other people are, that if they see a woman killed in an opera piece that people will interpret the message only applies to women. And if she is white? And her name Salome?

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