By Laura Petrarcha
In December 1850, a few months before Verdi’s Rigoletto was set to premiere at La Fenice, Verdi received a letter from the Austrian censors. At the time, Venice was a part of the Austrian Empire, and the Austrian government censors plundered all public art (especially opera) for material that was politically or morally suspect. Rigoletto, which was then called La Maledizione, enraged them. They made several demands of Verdi and his librettist Francesco Maria Piave: they wanted to remove Rigoletto’s hump, make the Duke more sympathetic, deemphasize the curse, and get rid of the sack in the final scene. An extremely angry Verdi wrote a letter to the president of La Fenice theater explaining why he couldn’t make the revisions. Here is an excerpt:
I should probably explain my complete absence lately. It’s kind of been the perfect storm of major life changes and really fun mental health issues! Yay! I don’t want to promise regular posting, at least until my semester is over.
I wrote this thing for Opera21 (you are all reading this magazine, yes? okay, good). It’s about sexual violence in Rigoletto and how we might be able to put opera in the context of the current political climate. And since THAT made no sense, you now have to read it to know what I’m talking about!
Also seriously read all the other stuff in this issue because lots of great people hit it out of the park this month.
xxxx viva la opera!
In many ways, of course, classical music is rather like a religion. We humble ourselves, performers and audience, before the creative spirit of our ancestors; we perform arcane rituals according to laid-down formulae; we improve ourselves; we imagine ourselves privileged to glimpse something transcendent, some small piece of the infinite.
That time of year again. Soprano Lisa Della Casa sings Strauss’s ‘September.’
I was so so so charmed by today’s Google Doodle that I went on a crazy Debussy youtube spree. And I thought I would share this: Soprano Arleen Auger singing Debussy’s ‘Romance.’ Two minutes of sheer bliss.
Happy Birthday, Dame Janet.
And thank you.
Hi all. So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I wanted to thank you all for being patient with me. I was really happy to be a part of the discussion about the situation in Russia, and I plan to continue raising relevant issues and participating in debates. Meanwhile, I’m going to make a point to post regularly. I’m still in a state of transition, so bear with me, but finding material for this forum is really a great joy for me. And as are you, followers <3
Here is a young Elina Garanca singing ‘Non piu mesta’ from Rossini’s ‘La Cenerentola.’ Cardiff Singer of the World 2001. Congrats to her on her second pregnancy (it’s a girl!!!). We will miss her this season, but we wish her health and happiness and look forward to welcoming her back soon :D
I still dont understand why the two have to be connected, but Tchaikovsky supressed it. It drove him crazy. He didn’t want to be gay. Using Tchaikovsky as support for LGBT is like using the Pope to support Abortion. But if i understand everything correctly, the only person being dissed is Putin. You want the Met to do this in a way to speak up against him. But just because they don’t, doesn’t mean they are supporting Putin. It means they have to deal with the political ramifications. Right?— Anonymous
Hm. Where to begin.
I don’t know much about Tchaikovsky’s life, but a quick google search reveals that you’re simplifying the situation. Musicologists are torn on whether or not Tchaikovsky really felt tainted because of his sexuality. They agree, however, that Tchaikovsky suppressed his sexuality because he was concerned about what would happen to him and his loved ones should it become public. Being homosexual in Tchaikovsky’s Russia meant being stripped of all rights and possible banishment to Siberia, so Tchaikovsky’s concern was completely legitimate. Under those circumstances, of course he would hide it.
The abortion analogy you use is flawed. Has the Pope had an abortion in this hypothetical? Abortion is a serious issue, and I don’t think bringing it into the discussion really adds anything to the debate.
Putin’s laws in Russia are indefensible. They legitimize anti-gay violence and force the LGBT community and its supporters to live in fear of the law. Speaking on behalf of gay rights and spreading “gay propaganda” is now a crime in Russia. It’s all frighteningly close to how Tchaikovsky lived in the 1800s.
Should the Met speak out for gay rights, it might have political ramifications for Met artists and employees (it might force the Met’s Russian artists to take a side). It might alienate more conservative members of its clientele. So yeah, there are consequences, and you’re right, being quiet doesn’t necessarily mean they are supporting Putin. But if everyone is silent, it signals that we are complacent with the status quo. I don’t know how the Met might begin to deal with this issue, but the reality is that this is happening. No one could have predicted it five years ago, but here we are, and I think it’s irresponsible for the Met (or maybe not Met, maybe this should come from the opera community) to completely ignore it. Someone, something has recognize what’s going on in Russia. It’s not just business as usual. Looking away from the situation is telling the queer community in Russia and around the world (and in the past, including Tchaikovsky himself) that this violation of their rights is not worth our time and attention.