Friday, August 05, 2011

"La donna è mobile" ("Woman is fickle")

Last night, in celebration of our forthcoming 42nd wedding anniversary, I took Katy to Rigoletto at the Richmond Theatre. Despite an unscheduled break in the last act it was a great evening. Second row of the stalls one is right there with the performers.

The icing on the cake is "La donna è mobile" ("Woman is fickle"). However, sung by a lecherous, lying duke, this is a slander.

This woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes in voice — and in thought.
Always sweet,
Pretty face,
In tears or in laughter, — she is a liar.
The woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes in voice and in thought,
And in thought!
And in thought!

Always miserable
Is he who trusts her,
He who confides in her — his unwary heart!
Yet one never feels
Fully happy
Who on that bosom — does not drink love!

Woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changed her words,
And her thoughts!
And her thoughts!

The woman he has seduced remains infatuated with this evil man.

The opera is very dark indeed. Men are lustful, liars, vengeful, murderers. Fatherly love leads to tragedy. Women are not fickle. The heroine's fault is constancy in her infatuation for a bad man. The ending is very very dark. A dead girl and a broken father. No justice for evildoers. But the music is great. Especially 'Elephants ears" - 'e di pensier!'.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Weeks,

I agree with you that Rigoletto is a great opera and a very dark one indeed.

However, with the greatest of respect, I think you're being a little too kind to Gilda. No doubt Almighty God would judge her mercifully (she is only a silly teenager after all), but the genius of Verdi and Hugo is that through the characters of the Duke and Gilda, the opera highlights the dark side of both male and female nature.

Gilda does not offer herself as a sacrifial lamb because of some quaint Victorian notion of "constancy". She does so because she is madly in love and infatuated with the Duke. What young woman would not love the Duke? He's young, handsome, rich, virile, aggressive, confident. He's the ultimate alpha male.

It is in the nature of women (most of them) to fall head over heels for alpha males. This has nothing to do with good behaviour on the alpha male's part. Take for example, Prince Harry, presently third in line to the British throne and a worthy modern day counterpart to the Duke of Mantua. When Harry goes out carousing in clubs, his behaviour is often boorish, but I have heard it said that security literally have to peel the young ladies off of him like a banana.

In Rigoletto, the Duke rapes Gilda and she later learns of his lecherous, vile nature, but she still loves him and sacrifices herself for him anyway! This can only be explained by an understanding of female hypergamy - a force just as destructive to the social fabric as male lechery.

Verdi and Hugo understood the ugly side of human nature and this is partly what makes Rigoletto so compelling a tragedy; of course, the great music helps!

Graham Weeks said...

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is not to let heart rule head. Also a bad book may have an appealing cover.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr. Weeks. I think we are in agreement.