I'm thinking about opera women for International Women's Day and Women's History Month...
Now it must be said that some of our favorite opera characters make some very bad choices. If they did not, they wouldn’t be writing an opera about it! Role models they often are not.
Tosca -Well, it was an impossible situation, but still not sure stabbing is to be exactly encouraged. But she probably saved lives by what transpired, so how it will shake out “avanti a Dio” who can say.
Cio-Cio-san (Madama Butterfly)- Brave and tenacious, she rebels against her family to embrace a new life, following the dream of freedom and love. We feel for her because we all can get blinded by what we want most. But dying with honor? I prefer the book version where she lives, picks up her kid and goes.
Carmen is strong minded and refuses to give in “She is born free and will die free”. Having not heeded the warnings, she does indeed die.
Turandot/Liu- We have a Princess who has cut the heads of 33 men for just getting a riddle wrong – role model? No. Liu, the slave, accepts her weakness, giving her life to protect Calaf in her hopeless love. ermmm...?
These ladies have lessons to impart and wisdom to remember, but let’s try to think of some more clear choices for woman role models in opera.
Musetta (La Boheme) - Dr. Laura Schlessinger would point out she’s a “shack up honey” for sure. She’s using men and they’re using her. But she seems to be wise, pragmatic and the adult of the bohemians. She quickly handles the bill at the café- knowing it’s no skin off Alcindoro’s nose. She's smart and capable, all she needs is a darn shoe to change the whole situation. When she decides to leave him for her true love Marcelo, she doesn’t intent to starve or freeze in a garret; she sets up with Marcello in a tavern to paint and teach singing. She is frustrated by the childishness of the men who have no food or drink to give to the poor dying Mimi. She immediately thinks to sell her earrings for medicine and bolsters them into action. She accepts responsibility for her choices. “Holy Madonna, I am unworthy of forgiveness...”
Rosina- Everything seems to be conspiring against her, but even essentially imprisoned, she sorts out Figaro and Almaviva to achieve her happy ending perfectly -at least “for now” (Barber of Seville) and even though we don’t for a moment think the Duke will be faithful, she is remains a strong wise dignified woman (Marriage of Figaro).
Hanna (The Merry Widow)- Wise and unwilling to be a pawn she protects Valencienne and gets Danilo to admit what was true all along; setting things up nicely for herself, her love and her country.
Norina (Don Pasquale) – With one swoop and some help from the wily Doctor she simultaneously teaches old Don Pasquale that he is in no way able to handle a young wife and sorts it out so that marrying her true love is the quite obvious and logical solution.
Tatyana (Eugene Onegin)- Conventions do not stop her from sending an unheard of love (practically engagement) letter to Onegin who does not handle it well. While crushed it doesn’t hold her back (she marries a prince) and will have none of it when Onegin pursues her later!
Minnie (La Fanciulla del West)- She has the entire camp under her thumb and calls Rance on his already being married without batting an eye. She literally gambles for a man’s life; she shoots the rope he is being hung with; and uses intense negotiations to get the miners to let them leave. Yes, let’s be like Minnie- one powerful woman!