Dating in the real world is enough of a minefield but in opera it’s even trickier. Take The Barber of Seville, part of WNO’s Autumn 2021 Season.
Rosina is a woman in demand – the opera starts with her being serenaded by mysterious stranger Lindoro (who is actually Count Almaviva in disguise). She lives a protected life as the ward of Dr Bartolo, who also secretly plans to marry her when she is of age so that he can claim her dowry. Almaviva pursues her, in a variety of alter egos, and with the ‘help’ of matchmaking barber Figaro, while Bartolo plots to discredit him and keep Rosina for himself. Through all of this, Rosina is enjoying the attentions paid upon her by Lindoro/Almaviva and completely oblivious to the plans of Bartolo but with all of the machinations it’s no wonder she’s confused.
Spoiler alert – it all works out, as we see Rosina and Almaviva married (yet still sneaking around in disguise to catch each other out) in The Marriage of Figaro.
Opera is full of mysterious marriages and confusing courtships - and frequently those men who are ‘in loco parentis’ (responsible for a young person, often an orphan) set their sights on their ‘ward’. But what do the women think? These men are often a lot older than them, and they have ulterior motives. All sorts of relationships are explored in opera, but they don’t always work out for the best.
In Madam Butterfly, the title character is head over heels in love with her handsome American soldier and definitely marries him for love. Unfortunately his motives are not quite so honest and he betrays her leading to tragic consequences. Carmen is very different, as she doesn’t seem to worry about marriage and the future, preferring to enjoy her romances and move on to the next. La Cenerentola is the ultimate fairy tale romance, when downtrodden Angelina literally finds and marries her charming prince; however things don’t go smoothly in Lucia di Lammermoor where an arranged marriage, against the bride’s wishes, results in murder.
It’s not always an easy life for single women in opera but ultimately, in The Barber of Seville it all works out happily ever after with a hastily arranged wedding and true love prevailing. It’s the original rom-com.