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« Ralph's Rugger | Main | Didn't Do It ... and Glad! »

March 09, 2008

It Ain't Over Till There's Blood All Over

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

"It ain't over till the fat lady sings" goes the saying. I'm not so sure.

Granted, I'm no big opera fan. It's my wife who sees to it that I go three or four times a year. And after a few years of this, I've gotten a fair number of operas under my belt.

Often enough, it's not the fat lady that sings to end the performance. Rather, it's an emaciated heroine who expires after withering away from a disease during the last act: think La Bohème and La Traviata.

It can get worse. The last two operas I saw ended in bloodbaths. Pagliacci's curtain dropped after a cuckolded clown stabbed his wayward wife and her boyfriend. Not all clowns are funny, it seems.

The heroine in last Wednesday's Seattle Opera production of Tosca leaped to her death after her boyfriend was shot by a firing squad. This was after she had stabbed to death the local police boss.

And here I thought Italians were basically a happy, life-loving bunch. Good thing I hadn't seen Pagliacci and Tosca before last fall's trip to Italy: I'd have worried about poison in the spaghetti.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at March 9, 2008




Comments

I've always thought that "... 'till the fat lady sings" is a reference to the fat lady who sings at a funeral. ... As to opera violence, its not just an Italian thing, because German opera is just as violent. I think this is really a relic of a period of Western history in which serious plots in dramas of any sort were thought to be tragic. You could have a play in which everyone lives happily ever after, but it had to be a comedy. It's part of a much more pessimistic world view than the one we have today.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on March 10, 2008 9:59 AM



Lester -- I don't know the history of the phrase. But as best I recall, it got wide coverage during (I think) the 1979 National Basketball Association playoffs between the Washington and Seattle teams, when the Washington coach said it. It was widely assumed to be an opera reference.

Whatever its source, I thought it would be a fun way to start the post.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on March 10, 2008 10:47 AM



I believe the allusion to the fat lady singing applies to any on-stage horror that is covered up by the appearance of the fat lady singer. She's a diversion. But I don't know how I "know" that.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on March 10, 2008 7:31 PM



The character may be withering away, but the performer was usually a "fat lady". For instance, it used to be common to end Lucia di Lammermoor after the "mad scene", which was a show-off for the star soprano - often an an ample diva like Nelly Melba.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on March 17, 2008 8:33 PM






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