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Abigaille bursts into the Jerusalem Temple at the opening as an Amazon-like warrior to confront Fenena and Ismaele. Her driving motive here is the jealousy of a scorned lover — stock operatic territory. However, a twist is added in part 2; the erstwhile devoted daughter discovers that she is Nebuchadnezzar's only by adoption, and is by birth in fact a slave. At this point, any attempt at historical credibility or fidelity to the biblical text has been abandoned. The musical high-point of Abigaille's career comes, perhaps surprisingly, not as she actually seizes the throne from her insane father, but earlier, when she decides on her course of action.
And what an ending that scene has! Verdi's music depicts a moment of supreme triumph: " Already I ascend the blood-stained footstool of the gilded throne. This satisfies the musical need for a moment of high emotional energy, and the dramatic requirement of providing a cliff-hanger.
In part 3, Abigaille seals her triumph, humiliating Nebachudnezzar and engineering the execution of Fenena and Ismaele. She then disappears from the action, to reemerge in the closing moments stripped of anger, passion, vitality, and credibility. All has dissolved into guilt. This is simply too sudden a transformation. As her recovered father resumes his throne, and monotheistic Judaism triumphs, the patriarchal status quo is literally restored.
Abigaille represents a disruptively powerful femininity that has no place in this order and has to be removed. Even her paganism is eliminated as with her dying breath she undergoes a most unlikely conversion to Judaism. Abigaille, who could have been so potent a character, is therefore a disappointment. The failure to provide fully rounded development of her character ultimately makes this work a series of colourful tableaux hung upon a broadly biblical framework, rather than a serious engagement with a biblical story.
If we turn now to the second opera, we enter a paradox: The action has been removed far from the apocryphal milieu, and the details of the story have been subjected to considerable transformation. Yet, through this process of reinterpretation, the core issues of the Susannah story have been preserved and indeed heightened. Susannah This heightening is because Floyd's opera, for which he wrote both text and music, tackles head on the critical issue that Nabucco's happy ending avoids, and which runs through the original Susannah story.
That is, how can a strong female character maintain integrity in a society dominated by religious absolutism and hegemonic masculinity? Floyd traces the psychological development of Susannah's character both convincingly and consistently. She progresses from a state of innocence, through the inner turmoil of her false accusation and ostracization within her community, to a position of authority and maturity; and Floyd deliberately avoids the happy ending that would have seen her restored to her former state.
Instead, she is badly tarnished by her experience, and the opera closes with her assuming for herself the role of abuser. This gives the piece a far greater realism than Verdi's opera. It is not without its artistic faults or its critics, but the piece does hold together more satisfactorily than Nabucco.
Many of the central features of the original Susannah story find their way into Floyd's opera, for example, the name and innocence of the heroine, the figures of religious Elders, and their discovery of a naked Susannah bathing in the open air.
The Noir Geek’s Guide to The Big Lebowski - Criminal Element
Both accounts draw a sharp contrast between the innocence of Susannah and the lustful hypocrisy of the religious leaders, and both pivot around a trial scene, though Floyd brilliantly transforms this into an evangelistic altar-call service. While the broad outlines are maintained, Floyd reworks the original story with great freedom and creativity, shifting the action into a new setting.
His Susannah takes place not in ancient Babylon, but in the mountains of Tennessee during a religious revivalist week in the mid-twentieth century. Susannah's accusers are Elders not of the exiled Jewish community, but of the local Christian church. Throughout the piece, the themes of religious and gender-related bigotry are interwoven. The most masterly handling of this is in the bathing scene, which Floyd maps onto the motif of sacramental repentance. The Elders come upon Susannah as they scout out a possible site for the baptisms they expect in the forthcoming revivalist week.
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Susannah's innocent bathing is the setting where her enemies' initially lustful and then destructive thoughts are formulated; it is also the location at which they, as leaders of the community, will conduct a Christian ritual of the repentance they demand of Susannah but do not regard as applying to them. A final twist is provided in the last scene, when Susannah's creek becomes the location of the violent murder of her primary assailant as he baptises others. And Susannah herself?
Floyd portrays her not as the mature wife of a wealthy man, but as a virginal eighteen-year-old orphan, living in poverty with her amiable but drunken brother. The freedom that Floyd brought to this reworking can, to some extent, be explained by his statement that he did not study the text of Susannah until after he had written the opera. It was, he said, based on his own memories of the story and those of a colleague who first suggested it to him as an operatic theme, and on "some old pictures.
This process of transformation can best be examined in a figure who appears in both the original and Floyd's work, a young boy or youth. In the apocrypha, at the trial of Susannah, a young lad named Daniel intervenes to protest her innocence and to expose the false nature of the accusation that has been laid upon her. Floyd's opera also has a youth who occupies a pivotal role.
He is "Little Bat," the very immature son of a Church Elder. The role he performs in the drama is the opposite of the original Daniel's. Instead of saving Susannah, he becomes the key witness for the prosecution, and the tool of her accusers. The psychological heart of the opera is its exploration of the impact of false accusation upon the individual. This was, of course, a central theme of the original story, but it also resonates with the period of the work's composition, towards the end of the Macarthyite era, when accusation was taken almost as tantamount to proof of guilt.
Floyd's Susannah has no way of defending herself. The Elders' accusation of her is a diversionary activity to mask their own sense of guilt at their sexual arousal at the bathing scene. Their wives' complicity is the fruit of their own deep-seated prejudice against Susannah.
These two come together in the willingness of both elders and wives to believe evidence that they themselves have fabricated by pressurising Little Bat to confess to that which his own father secretly desired. The religious authorities thus invent a public character for Susannah: the femme fatale , a corrupter of innocent youth whom she draws to destruction and, indeed, damnation. Having laid these foundations, Floyd examines Susannah's psychological decline as the impossibility of her situation weighs increasingly upon her. Her initial response is one of helplessness. Later, she begins to internalize the accusation:.
Mebbe I'm all they say I am.
Appendix: A Gallery of Archetypes
Mebbe the devil is in me. Mebbe he's hidin' the sin I should feel. Act 2, Scene 1. I don't know what it'd be like To feel happy agin, Or to wake up in the mornin' Without this awful thing Weighin' down on me So's I don't even wanta git up To see what the day's like. An' all them things people's said about me An' the looks people's give me An' the way they treated me [ And if I thought this was the way The rest o' my life was gonna be, I'd kill myself right now.
When World War I broke out, she allegedly became the most notorious double-agent in history. Shipman attempts to clear Mata Hari, presenting evidence some compelling, some less so that she was innocent of espionage charges. Shipman hypothesizes that she was framed by French bureaucrats and convicted because of her unabashed sexuality and the money she accepted from men, rather than because there was concrete evidence against her.
She views events through a modern feminist viewpoint, which provides fresh insight in some cases and muddies the waters in others. Toggle navigation. Browse our magazines Submit your novel for review. All articles Browse by Tag Browse Guides. Browse articles by tag Choose a tag Browse articles by Author Choose an author Browse reviews by Genre Choose a genre