The Harvey Weinsteins of the world are well represented in opera
We laugh and clap along with characters in opera whose actions would scandalise us in real life
The plot of Alfano’s ‘Risurrezione’ features a man who abuses a young girl. Photograph: Clive Barda
It’s hard not to be thinking of Harvey Weinstein these days. The wide-ranging accusations against the Hollywood mogul have galvanised public opinion around the world in the way that various sexual scandals did in Ireland in the early 1990s.
It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction to wonder “should I have suspected?’ or “should I have known?” Even the dictionary that’s built into my computer hedges its bets on the definition of “casting couch” and says the noun is used in reference to “the supposed practice whereby actresses are awarded parts in films or plays in return for granting sexual favours to the casting director”.
Stories about Weinstein may have been an open secret to Hollywood insiders. But members of the general public don’t find it easy to understand why someone in such a powerful position would need to resort to coercion. It may well be a case of knowing how to hide in open view.
It was certainly hard not to think of Harvey Weinstein during the opening days of Wexford Festival Opera. The plot of Alfano’s Risurrezione features a man who, in the old-fashioned construction of the festival’s plot summary, takes the innocence of a young girl. When she becomes pregnant she is ejected from the home into which she had been adopted.
Yet, even after she has contemplated suicide, has seen her lover with another woman, has fallen into prostitution, has been wrongly condemned by a jury on which her lover sat, and is set to marry another man, she can still declare her love for her seducer. There’s a message there that the Harvey Weinsteins of the world would take succour from.
There’s a wrongful accusation at the heart of another festival opera, Foroni’s Margherita. Here the heroine is forced into a marriage contract with someone who only wants her money. She agrees as it is the only way she can see to free the man she wants to marry, who has been wrongfully accused of murder.
And in Cherubini’s Medea, there’s Medea’s double infanticide and a murder by poison, all carried out as part of a mammoth manipulation triggered by sexual jealousy. The arch manipulators can be female, too.
The Harvey Weinsteins of the world are well represented in opera, from the notorious conquests of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to the devious, lying predator Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca. There’s also the deceitful partner-swapping in another Mozart opera, Così fan tutte. Here the men grant themselves licence to swap girl-friends for a bet, but when the girl-friends then fall for the wrong men this is regarded as cheating. Managing to lay the blame on the victims is an important skill of sexual bullies.