Controversy and blasphemy at the Metropolitan Opera

Since I was quite young I have enjoyed grand opera.  I listened to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on Saturdays and always went to their performances when the whole company would come for its annual road trip to my home town.  When I introduced people to opera I usually start with Puccini’s Tosca.

Tosca is short, Roman, and has it all.  The first act takes place in the great counter-Reformation church Sant’Andrea della Valle, which I lived next to for a long while.  The second, is at the Palazzo Farnese, which I walked past often for years.  The third, at Castel Sant’Angelo, if clear view of my window and beneath whose walls I trekked on the way to work and study.

I was especially irritated to read this story, which came to me through the blog of Patrick Madrid.

To piggy back on Jim’s post regarding Penn and Teller’s most recent attack on Catholicism, I heard on the Radio this morning that there is a bit of controversy brewing at the N.Y. Metropolitan Opera House. On the Laura Ingraham Show, Raymond Arroyo reported that the Met’s new season opener, Puccini’s Tosca, features a very disturbing scene.

At the end one of the acts, the baritone who plays Baron Scarpia apparently simulates the sexual act with a statue of the Virgin Mary. When the curtain rises again, he is found caressing the statue.

You know as well as I that we would never see this type a scene perpetrated with a statue of Mohammad. But, as usual, we Christians are fair game.

I know where Bill Donahue will be on September 21st. Why don’t we each lift up a prayer in reparation for this sacrilege against our Blessed Mother:

Most glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, turn thine eyes in pity upon us, miserable sinners; we are sore afflicted by the many evils tat surround us in this life, but especially do we feel our hearts break within us upon hearing the dreadful insults and blasphemies uttered against thee, O Virgin Immaculate. O how these impious sayings offend the infinite Majesty of God and of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ! How they provoke His indignation and give us cause to fear the terrible effects of His vengeance! Would that the sacrifice of our lives might avail to put an end to such outrages and blasphemies; were it so, how gladly we should make it, for we desire, O most holy Mother, to love thee and to honor thee with all our hearts, since this is the will of God. And just because we love thee, we will do all that is in our power to make thee honored and loved by all men. In the meantime do thou, our merciful Mother, the supreme comforter of the afflicted, accept this our act of reparation which we offer thee for ourselves and for all our families, as well as for all who impiously blaspheme thee, not knowing what they say. Do thou obtain for them from Almighty God the grace of conversion, and thus render more manifest and more glorious thy kindness, thy power and thy great mercy. May they join with us in proclaiming thee blessed among women, the Immaculate Virgin and most compassionate Mother of God. Amen.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. nhaggin says:

    Can we sink any lower in reinterpreting the nasty characters of opera? (Don’t answer that; someone will take me up on it.) Scarpia wouldn’t be caught dead doing such things; he cares too much for his bella figura.

  2. La Sandia says:

    Ugh. It looks like Eurotrashy opera productions have infiltrated the Met at long last. Shame, as the Met seemed to have held back against this kind of nonesense much longer than other opera houses:

    Needless to say, I won’t be going to the movie theater for this performance’s broadcast.

  3. lofstrr says:

    If someone so insulted another’s earthly mother, what son wouldn’t have to restrain himself from thoroughly beating the perpetrator. Now consider Who’s mother they insult and violate. He who could call ten thousand angles to take care of the problem. It is a frightening thing to consider.

  4. Londiniensis says:

    Old hat, old hat. In London’s Covent Garden, many many years ago there was a production of Don Giovanni (yes, Don Giovanni) chiefly memorable for the scandal of having Giovanni fondle a statue of Our Lady during the final dinner scene.

    Every production which doesn’t have a star name above the title needs a gimmick, every third rate producer his succès de scandale. Even first rate producers do it – when Peter Hall was directing his then wife Maria Ewing in Salome (Covent Garden again) he had her strip starkers during the dance scene, obviously to mask the all too apparent fact that Ewing just didn’t have the voice for the role. Strange values – to parade his wife’s pudenda before an audience so that the punters would talk of something other than her tiny voice (they didn’t, seasoned opera goers have the right priorities).

    Nothing on an opera stage nowadays surprises me, which is why I have practically stopped going unless I know in advance exactly who the producer and designer are and what their track record is.

  5. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I am a frequent patron of the Met Opera, and have always loved their production of [i]Tosca[/i].

    My wife and I have tickets to the Met’s [i]Tosca[/i] this Spring. I hope Mr. Donohue gets some movement on this issue, or there will be quite a ruckus at that performance.

    If this is where the Met Opera is headed, they won’t see my money again.

  6. Sieber says:

    Hmmmmm. I wonder if an outburst as similarly indecorous as the one that recently graced a joint session of Congress might ensue.

  7. 4mercy says:

    This truly breaks my heart. Thank you for the beautiful prayer of Reparation!

    Cartusciello – great comment!

  8. I’ve only been to the opera a few times; same with dance and recent theater. I noticed at least a decade ago that onstage dance often has been replaced by, or equated with, simulated sex acts. Those artistes are soooo daring. I guess I’m just too bourgeois to appreciate it.

  9. capchoirgirl says:

    Oh I certainly HOPE that doesn’t happen! Not at the Met, of all places!
    In my spare time I”m an actress, and so far I’ve been blessed with directors that stick to TRADITIONAL interpretations, intent on bringing the beauty of theater and song to audiences, not some new “Message.” I hope the Met gets its head screwed on straight before the opener.

    Where do you live? I’m in Columbus and we still have wonderful dance (the ballet company is opening with Swan Lake), and a great theater scene that sticks to traditional representations. If it IS new, it’s nothing sacrilegious.

    Sigh. It can be so hard to be a conservative and be involved in the arts.

    Someone above said they wouldn’t do this to Mohammed. Does anyone else remember a European company that DID use Mohammed, or the Koran, in a profane way? Total uproar. They cancelled the opera because of threats against the company and the house, I believe. (Could be wrong though, it was a few years ago.)

  10. Jack Hughes says:

    Our Lady of Fatima Ora Pro Nobis

  11. ThomasM says:

    Well, maybe Catholics, not Catholics like Pelosi, etc., will boycott this travesty. With the anti-Christ, Abortion King, as President, we are in a Holy War. I know this is horrible to say, but maybe if Catholics were more like the Muslims, this kind of crap would not occur. I doubt if fem boy, Frank Rich, of the New York Slimes would have the temerity to support this, if we Catholics were like the “peace loving” Muslims. Tom

  12. Gratuitous and ghastly — is it possible such philistines could be associated with the Met?

    Cincinnati is blessed with a world-class opera house, and we attend at least one performance every summer.

    My very first opera was Tosca, and fortunately I have nothing but fond memories.

  13. chloesmom says:

    Horrible, horrible thing to do to a great work of art — I don’t think Puccini would be very happy with this. And, like many other posters, I thought the Met had more class. Very sad…

  14. dimsum says:

    I am also an opera fan. I am a subscriber to my local opera company and am a regular listener of the Saturaday afternoon MET broadcasts. This is an outrage. I don’t think Puccini would have approved of this. It is hard to believe they’ve done this to an opera that has scenes that inclue the s the Angelus, the Te Deum and the aria “Vissi d’arte.”

  15. capchoirgirl,
    I’ve seen this in New York and DC (of course), and in Pittsburgh!

  16. ssoldie says:

    How very disgusting these people who write this blasphemy, who produce it, who direct it, who perform it, and most especially those who go to see it. I have been told the last accepted prejudice…..anti-Catholicism.

  17. As a Knight of Columbus, I’d like to see the KofC take to the streets en masse at the Met if this blasphemous BS takes place.

    They do it because we sit around and pray instead of taking action. Prayer is fine, but sometimes more is required than that.

  18. Ellen says:

    This is standard fare in most European opera houses I understand. It’s a sort of contest on how much you can epater le bourgeoisie. Not content with coarsening popular culture beyond belief, they’ve turned on high culture.

    I think I will become a hermit.

  19. chironomo says:

    From Nijinsky’s performance of L’apres midi d’un faune in Paris to this, we have to recall that opera/ ballet/ theatre are entertainment, not liturgy. While the work itself may be classic, the productions reflect the culture of the times (look at early 1970’s met productions and you’ll get the picture). While disgusting, it is predictable. Second-rate Director-producers have to do something to generate publicity, whether it’s having total nudity or shocking scenes like this.

  20. Jack Hughes says:

    ahh for the days when one could see a decent production of “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” instead of this trash, time for a bonfire of the vanaties methinks

  21. albizzi says:

    You ignorant Boeotians & country bumpkins: That’s CULTURE, the last god of the times being.
    In the name of culture all is allowed and it’s worshippers say amen.

  22. Gail F says:

    What is the deal with opera and why do directors feel they have to make it sleazy to be “current”? This has long been the case with Shakespeare productions, unfortunately, but in Europe and occasionally here it seems to be the “cool” way to produce opera.

    I love opera and there are surely lots of ways to make Tosca current (pop star divas come to mind) without something so disgusting — and which really has nothing to do with the Baron’s character.

  23. rwprof says:

    I’d find this a lot more disturbing if it were Cavaradossi doing it. Recall that Scarpia is one of the most intensely evil characters in standard rep.

  24. irishgirl says:

    I’ve never been to an opera myself-much less to the Met-but this is disgusting!

    Yeah, ThomasM-maybe we Catholics ‘should’ be like those ‘peace-loving Moslems’ [prefer the ‘old’ spelling] and raise some ‘you-know-what’!

    Thanks for printing the prayer of reparation, Fr. Z! First we pray-then we act!

  25. Mike Morrow says:

    Real opera, i.e. that (and only that) by Wagner, doesn’t lend itself to such abuses. :-)

  26. Mrs McG says:

    I’m ill.

  27. romancrusader says:

    We are slowly starting to resemble pagan Rome. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Mark my words, ladies and gentleman.

  28. Re: Metropolitan Opera

    They’re also mounting an art exhibit of modern St. Mary Magdalene pictures. So there’s a possibility that it would be good, but then they named it “Something about Mary”. Sigh.

    Re: Wagner

    If there’s an actor on stage or a set decoration, some Eurotrash director is working on making hte production pornographic. Sad but true. So of course Wagner hasn’t been spared, either. :)

  29. romancrusader says:

    sarcasm on/ We can start the trail burnings before mass/ sarcasm off

  30. jaykay says:

    “we would never see this type a scene perpetrated with a statue of Mohammad.”

    Well no, we wouldn’t, since depictions of him are totally verboten in Islam and there have certainly never been statues. But apart from that, the Danish cartoon controversy shows just what would be likely to happen if they did try anything deemed blasphemous by our peaceful brethren of the book. It would never happen anyway… our liberals are only liberal up to the point when they’re likely to get hurt in the process. They like their targets safe.

    I do recall seeing a play in London many years ago, around 1977, called “Once a Catholic”. It was one of the first in the by now hackneyed and cliched “1950s repressed Catholic schoolgirls” shtick. In the final scene there was Benediction. The “hilarity” revolved around the fact that these merry little minxes had arranged a very large plasticene (playdough?) member on the figure of Our Lord on a crucifix. Cue general roars of laughter from the audience. I always felt ashamed that I didn’t just get up and leave.

  31. Don Boyle says:

    Let’s wait and see what the production looks like. The Met has been pretty secretive about the details of this production, which will replace Franco Zeffirelli’s of several decades. Remember that Scarpia is a bad guy—utterly wicked and ruthless. Without regard to the details of any production, the libretto portrays him as plotting murder and seduction in the church while the Te Deum is being sung. Just reading the text on the Met Titles in the theater ought to be enough to show the audience how evil he is, making this visual unnecessary, but let’s see.

    Tosca is not a Handel oratorio. The only significant character with any conventional piety, the Sacristan, is a buffoon. A famous review called it a “shabby little shocker.” The heroine leaps to her death, and her last words are malice and defiance. I’d be more offended by the usual Regietheater clichés, where Scarpia is George W. Bush and Tosca is Lady Liberty. Hold your fire.

  32. MichaelJ says:

    Why? Is it ever appropriate, under any circumstances to portray simulating sexual acts with a statue of the Virgin Mary?

  33. Antiquarian says:

    I too must advocate aiting to see what actually is done in this production. I’m puzzled by the description, since, as Father Z has said, Act I takes place in the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle (and ends– in the libretto– with him singing of his lust during the Te Deum), but the curtain would rise next on Scarpia’s apartment. Is he supposed to have taken the statue home with him? Something about the report doesn’t add up.

  34. Don Boyle says:

    MichaelJ: All we have at this point are hearsay reports of the production, and we are all free to imagine what it will look like. Tosca is a pretty R-rated opera anyway, and Scarpia says, “Tosca, you make me forget God” as the curtain falls on Act I. The director’s choice arguably fits the character. It’s not as if we’re talking about Papageno or Mimi. I see this more as a question of appropriate artistic choices than of attacks on the Catholic faith.

    In Act II, there’s an onstage attempted rape, a torture, and a murder by dagger. All of these are mortal sins and outrageous. Would we still object to the opera without this latest controversy?

  35. MichaelJ says:

    There is a difference between a fictional portrayal of someone committing a mortal sin and actually committing that sin. Would your opinion change if in Act II there was an *actual* attempted rape, an *actual* torture and an *actual* murder?

    Would you take a “lets wait and see” attitude then?

    What I am saying is that the act of simulating sex with an image of Our Lady is in itself sinful. What you are saying is that it is acceptable to sin for “artistic” reasons.

  36. Don Boyle says:

    MichaelJ: This production may offend me. I generally don’t like having my nose rubbed in filth. Also, the act described is not in the stage directions or implied in the text and seems gratuitous.

    I disagree that an onstage portrayal of such an act IS the act. Is Scarpia being held up as a model whom we should approve? Of course not–his actions are fictional. All sorts of violence is done to people and things in plays and operas. A member of the audience once jumped on stage to save Desdemona from Othello; we consider that an overreaction, don’t we? Here, however, should we be outraged at a (fictional) desecration of a (fictional) sacred object? He’s not really in a church; it’s not really a blessed statue.

    Having said all this, I agree that actions are much more powerful than words. It’s more a matter of taste than morality. The production may be very tasteless but no more immoral than it was under good old Zeffirelli.

  37. MichaelJ says:

    I never said anything about desecration or “sacred objects”. If Fr. Z is to be believed, it *is* an image of Our lady and he (the actor – not his role) *will* be pretending to have sex with it.

    I fail to see how you can say that he is not really doing what he is doing because it is in a play. Again, an actor can pretend to murder someone. How is it possible that he can pretend to pretend to do something?

  38. Okay. So if you watch an animated movie, and the animated heroine gets raped and murdered, people have no grounds for being offended because she’s not a real woman.

    Heck, let’s extend that. If CNN shows a real woman getting really raped and murdered, we have no right to be offended because a) CNN is about showing things that happen and b) we’re not really seeing the woman, but only a pixel representation of her.

    Yeah, right. [roll eyes]

  39. JPG says:

    I had read in the times about a year ago that operas in Europe were being performed and destroyed by directors taking outlandish liberties with the text. American audiences it was implied had thus far been spared such actions and depictions. It would seem until now. In times past the a poor performer would be pelted by left over garbage. I would suggest perhaps one ought to leave ones garbage in the ticket office in protest. Perhaps delivering such a package would get the point across also attending a performance and greeting it with loud derisive boos would also get the point across. But for the fact that it may constitute a violation of the US postal service regulations perhaps packaging and mailing presents from fido to the director and the artistic director of the Met. The K of C march would be a nice proper gesture but would fill the perpetrators with delight and free publicity. Inundating them with garbage at Lincoln center or their homes would anger them and fill them with the same revulsion that all faithful Catholics feel at the thought of this action.

  40. JPG says:

    If at the met check out the Chagal murals. I am not a fan of of Modern art in general but these are wonderful. Also recall the flack Giuliani took (and gave right back ) while Mayor when one of the Museums was exhibiting a portrait of the Madonna made of elephant dung. Rudy not themost orthodox of Catholics made no bones about his disapproval. A march would be nice but being a little more in your face may get the point across.

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