Opera is no laughing matter -- an aside
A French team offers the ultimate in breast-reduction therapy.
“Fly away, birds of my weakness,” sings Thérèse as her breasts detach and rise up to the sky, allowing her to tear away from the tiresome cage of submissive wifehood.
Fed up with her husband’s demands, she cares more about mathematics than food. She could be a politician or a general. "It's been too long that men have been around to do as they wish," she declares.
So opens Francis Poulenc’s opera Les mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tiresias). Now a man, Thérèse-turned-Tiresias turns around, dresses her husband up in drag, and goes off to fight oppression.
It’s a feminist manifesto that predates Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique by 47 years.
This crazed story came out of the mind- and population-blowing stupidity of World War I. The 1916 play by Guillaume Apollinaire (a seminal work for the Surrealists and Dadaists), was turned into a two-act opera by Francis Poulenc during World War II. It had its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris in 1947, five years before Leonard Bernstein finished his suburban-idyll-mocking chamber opera, Trouble in Tahiti.
The lead role in Les mamelles was premiered by one of Poulenc’s muses, French soprano Denise Duval (who is alive and well at age 87).
Here is Duval singing from Les mamelles, with Poulenc at the piano, shouting out the husband’s lines (“Give me some lard!”). This was broadcast by French television at a celebration of the composer’s 60th birthday in 1959: