Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saucy Maids and Why I Hate Them

In most (ok, like three) 18th and early 19th century operas, there is a saucy maid/peasant girl character, and I hate all of them. Susanna, Despina, Zerlina – the only one I can stand is Berta in Barber of Seville, and that’s because she’s old and has a funny song, although I admit I used to hate that too. But it grows on you after a while

Put it on in the background while you read the rest of this.

But no, Berta’s fine. I just hate the young saucy characters. Particularly ladies, because Figaro’s all right. Figaro, Masetto, whoever, they’re all fine because 1) they’re young baritones and I am all for that type being on stage, and 2) they’re usually comic in a way that isn’t essentially “look at me transgressing social boundaries!” (which I guess was funny because the 18th century nobility was pretty much like ‘ha-hah, the class system shall exist forever!’)

He's obviously just wasting her time.

Yes, it’s hilarious that the servant is the one who has to tell the upper class how things work/what they should do in whatever dilemma they find themselves, and I’m sure it was thrilling to watch such social rules being broken in the 18th century, but it is now 2011, we have touchpad computers like in Star Trek, and I am no longer scandalized or even interested in these things.

What lasts? I don’t know. Violetta giving up the only happiness she’s ever going to know for a girl she’s never met. Colline selling his coat to buy medicine for Mimi. Lucia stabbing her husband however many times on their wedding night (wait, no, that’s not good...opera’s messed up). People won’t get annoyed by these things, no matter how many centuries removed they are from their creation. Most characters are at least in some ways going to be a product of their time, and I’m sure there are some redeeming parts to saucy maids, but I don’t care to look for them. Their overriding quality is insolence (that word makes me feel like a 19th century villain), used for comic effect. It’s quite possible I’m the only one who doesn’t find it funny, and in that case, enjoy the clip and ignore the rest of this post. But saucy maids are outdated and dumb.