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The 5 weirdest fathers in opera

By
Robert Rowat

If you're looking for tips on being a good father, opera is not the place to turn.

While there are exceptions — Verdi's Simon Boccanegra is probably opera's best dad — fathers in opera rarely make good choices. Of course, those wrong moral turns often make for high drama and great music.

Below: five super strange operatic dads.


1. Golaud, who enlists his son to spy on his unfaithful wife

In Debussy's one and only opera, Mélisande marries Golaud, but soon falls in love with his brother, Pelléas.

Golaud has a son, Yniold, from a previous marriage. Yniold tells his father that while Pelléas and Mélisande spend all their time together, he has only seen them kissing once. Consumed by jealousy, Golaud lifts Yniold to peer into Mélisande's window, where he sees Pelléas enter, but nothing untoward happens.

Later, of course, the two lovers are discovered by Golaud, who kills Pelléas.

2. King René, who secludes his blind daughter to keep her ignorant of her affliction

The title character of Tchaikovsky's one-act opera Iolantha is a blind princess, the daughter of King René. Except she doesn't know she's blind because her father has cut her off from the world to keep her affliction a secret, not only from Iolantha herself, but also her betrothed, Duke Robert. To that end, visitors are warned not to speak of light or colours in Iolantha's presence, strictures that are ignored by Count Vaudémont, who sneaks into Iolantha's garden, falls in love with her and makes her aware of her blindness.

King René is furious with Vaudémont, but when it becomes clear that Duke Robert has fallen in love with somebody else, he gives Iolantha and Vaudémont his blessing. Her blindness is cured, she marvels at the world now visible to her, and she and Vaudémont live happily ever after.

3. Pinkerton, who drives his child's mother to kill herself

In Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton is stationed in Japan, where he sweeps a local girl off her feet, marries and impregnates her, only to disappear back to the U.S.A. and begin life with "una vera sposa americana" (a real American wife), leaving poor Cio-Cio San (a.k.a. Butterfly) to bear a son and pine for Pinkerton's return.

Pinkerton does eventually return, but not to reunite with hopeful Cio-Cio San. Instead, he has come to take their son back to the U.S., to be raised by himself and his new wife, Kate.

It's the ultimate disgrace for Cio-Cio San who, adhering to her society's code of conduct, dies by harakiri.

4. Rigoletto, who indirectly kills his own daughter

The title character of Verdi's Rigoletto is a jester in the court of the not-so-honourable Duke of Mantua. The Duke seduces Rigoletto's daughter, Gilda, and to get revenge, Rigoletto enlists some shady types to kill the Duke. But the plot backfires and when the body bag is deposited at Rigoletto's feet during the opera's final scene, it is not the Duke, but in fact Gilda, dying, whom he discovers inside.

5. Wotan, who puts his disobedient daughter to sleep, surrounded by fire

When you're a Norse god, you don't roll like a mortal — and that evidently applies to parenting.

In Wagner's Die Walküre, Wotan is a Norse god and Brünnhilde is his favourite daughter. But she falls out of his favour when she disobeys him by siding with Siegmund (who wants to marry his own twin sister, Sieglinde) instead of Hunding, Sieglinde's betrothed.

Her punishment? To become a mortal, and be put to sleep inside a ring of fire to await any man who can penetrate it.

More to explore:

10 surprisingly good covers of Debussy's 'Clair de lune'

Essential Erik Satie: 10 pieces you shoud know

Opera singers wearing scarves: a photo gallery

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