Mr.and Mrs. Buce ventured forth to take in the Met's HD production of Massenet's Manon today. It's a fine presentation of a not-quite fine opera. Massenet is almost never challenging or actively engaging but he is fluent and here, at least, he seems to have mastered the knack of matching the score to the meaning of the moment.
Still, it was all non-taxing enough so as to allow my mind to wander to the whole array of golden-age operas premised on the idea that sex is an antic force disruptive of stable social order. I thought partticularly of La Traviata, Camen and Madame Butterfly, although I probably would have to allow a dozen more. The standard mantra for all of these is that they demonize women (or "woman") as the creature who brings evil into the world. But on the evidence at hand, this doesn't seem quite right to me. Sex is an antic force alright, but the women are more or less the bewildered vehicle, perplexed as anybody else about the strange power of the visitation. Carmen is no doubt the most explicit expression of human agency, but Carmen doesn't want to make trouble; she just wants to be free. The hypnotic power she holds over others appears to her to be almost a curiosity, perhaps useful in its way but nothing to write home about. I suppose the most damaged of the four would be Cio-Cio-San who has the misfortune to entangle herself with imperial realpolitik, and did everyone notice that she is the only one to have a baby?
The other common theme of the four, perhaps more consistent, is the men. And what a bunch of lamebrains they are, lacking the most rudimentary tools of prudential wisdom. You could say it's all dopamine poisoning, but I'm not so sure: looks to me like they've pretty much earned their lamebrain status on its own terms. There isn't any one of them for whom you can feel much of anything other than the notion that he had it coming. Even, or especially, Pinkerton who gets to walk away--"her gentle face will always haunt me, torturing me endlessly," ri-ight. You walk away with the profound sense that it wouldn't take any great skill to beguile this lot, and if the devil really wants a challenge, he'd better look someplace else. For extra credit, consider what happens to my list if you add Berg's Lulu.)
Afterthought: and speaking of men and their lives. The intermission camera lingered patiently over the workmen moving the sets. All men as far as I could see: a job that requires considerable skill, along with cooperation, teamwork. And they get to use their fabled upper-body strength. And they've got a union. Do they begin to understand how well off they are?