Do you ever sit in the audience at the opera and think how strange some of the characters act? Do you every wonder why the other characters even put up with him or her? I have felt this way in several operas, and have debated about which characters are the most weird in all of the operas I have seen.
WARNING: There is a difference between weirdness and love-lust. Some operatic characters that you think are weird are really just having extreme relationship problems. The following characters, in increasing order, are my top five picks for “Weirdoes in Opera”.
5. Herman from The Queen of Spades
Herman is a troubled man. He is obsessed with the game of cards and cannot focus on anything else. He is completely blinded by the concept of cards. Herman does end up taking a little break from his cards when he is invited to meet Liza at her home. But alas, the one reason that he has for being in Liza’s home is to get the secret card formula from the Countess. Liza ends up killing herself by jumping into a icy river, after Herman failed to meet her there. Herman also ended up killing the Countess, also known as the Queen of Spades, after frightening her in her bedroom. He was in her bedroom with the intention of getting the secret tip.
Photo: Herman being visited by the Queen of Spades (Metropolitan Opera)
Herman’s strange obsession with cards was so strong, that he caused the deaths of two people: A beautiful girl who loved him back, and the Countess, who had the answer to his question. He does eventually become satisfied when he gets his answer from the Countess’ ghost, “three, seven, ace”. Almost all other operatic tenors would be thrilled when a girl told him that she loved him! Herman is an operatic weirdo because he lets one thing blind him from the rest of the world: Cards.
4. Kundry from Parsifal
Kundry is a strange one. We know that her past life was not perfect, in that she laughed in the presence of the “Redeemer”. She has forever since been looked down upon. She was also the one to woo Amfortas into Klingsor’s grasp, so he could stab him with the infamous spear. Kundry has two guilts one her plate: Laughing in the presence of Christ, and hurting Amfortas.
Photo: Olive Fremstad as Kundry
This guilt has done far more than eat her from the inside. Her guilt affects the way she acts around others. For example: She mocks her master, Klingsor, for being chaste. Klingsor had castrated himself as an attempt to become worthy as a male virgin of the Knights of the Grail. She mocked her boss, which is never the smart thing to do. She is also constantly craving sleep, or schlaf, and even moans several times in the course of Parsifal. In most stagings of Parsifal, Kundry can be found lying on the floor most of the time with ragged hair and a crazy look in her eye.
Kundry is an operatic weirdo because of her guilt taking over her entire life and being.
3. The Doctor from Wozzeck
I know what you are thinking. Aren’t all the characters in Wozzeck weird? No. Many of the characters in Wozzeck are sick-minded, but not weird. However, the Doctor is weird.
Wozzeck lives a terrible life. He does not have any money, his wife is not faithful to him, and he has a child to feed. To make more money, he volunteers to act as a guinea pig for this strange doctor. Some of the experiments that this doctor makes Wozzeck struggle through are simply awful, such as only eating beans and not pissing. The doctor then proceeds to scold Wozzeck for not following these crazy directions. At the conclusion of the scene, the Doctor is happy to discover that Wozzeck’s mind and behavior are not in a normal place.
Photo: Dean Peterson as the Doctor at the San Diego Opera
If this were the 21st century, this doctor would have been put in jail. The Doctor is an operatic weirdo because of his strange experiments and attitude towards his patient.
2. Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer
Now, I now I said that love-lust is different from weirdness. It is one thing if an operatic character’s lover exists in person; it is another if they are inside a picture frame. Senta, get it together.
Senta, the daughter of Daland, is obsessed with the legend of the Flying Dutchman. The Dutchman cursed in the presence of Satan, and was cursed by him to roam the seas without rest. Every seven years, through an angel’s redemption, the Dutchman is able to go ashore and attempt to find himself a faithful wife. If he does not find one, he roams the seas restlessly for another seven years. Senta vows that she is going to save him from this madness.
Photo: Anja Kampe as Senta at the the Royal Opera House in 2011
This situation is similar to Elsa’s case in Lohengrin, where she dreams that a knight in shining armor is going to fight for her. Senta, this is a legend. It is something that you would read in a storybook. What makes you think that: A. He exists and B. That you can save him? Senta is an operatic weirdo because she lusts after a man in a picture frame, and not one in person.
1. Azucena in Il Trovatore
Even other weirdoes think that Azucena is weird. That is how weird she is. First of all, she was raised by a witch, putting her several rungs above on the weirdo ladder already. Second, she burned her own baby in a fire. BY MISTAKE. Instead of sacrificing the stolen baby, she burned her own. You would think that she could have been a little more careful? Third, she does not tell Manrico until he is a grown man that she is not his real mother. Manrico takes this smoothly, saying that he will still love her like she is his real mother. Finally, by the end of the opera when she has been captured and tied up, she has gone loony. She starts singing her aria, “Ai nostri monti ritorneremo”, meaning “Again to our mountains, we shall return”. What mountains? Since when have they mentioned mountains throughout Il Trovatore? Azucena has finally lost her marbles, more than she had lost before.
Photo: Dolora Zajick as Azucena
Azucena is an operatic weirdo because of her past, her way of doing things, and all in all her entire being.
Of all the operatic weirdoes out there, I felt that these five fit the bill. These are the characters that make your eyebrows raise and your mind puzzled. Without these characters in their operas, the operas would not be as exciting. If any of you have any other operatic weirdoes that you would like to share, comment away!