September 18, 2011

Oh, Radames... you're such a male.

In Verdi's pre-Cecil B. DeMille epic Aida, the music given to Radames is more interesting than he himself is as a dramatic character.  Take his opening aria "Celeste Aida", and the preceding recitative, "Se quel guerriero": it's a simple piece in good old ABA form, just like any hit tune by, say, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  In contrast, all other solo set pieces in the opera are monologues of Shakespearean grandeur, with evolving emotional and mental states and subtle psychology.

But Radames is a wading pool next to the oceanic depths of Amneris and Aida.  Basically, he has two things and only two things on his mind, as the recitative makes clear:

1) Making love to Aida five and possibly six times a day, and
2) Slaughtering as many yucky Ethiopians as possible.

That's it!  He has a two-track, testosterone-infused mind.  To make this observation is in no way an attempt to denigrate Aida, which is a genuine masterpiece; it's just stating the obvious.  In Hitchcockian terms, Radames is the "MacGuffin" of the libretto; the "object" desired by both principal females, thus driving all the action.

But there's one aspect of his character which, as simple as he is, puzzled me.  Here's what I couldn't figure out about Radames:

GIVEN that he is extremely ambitious, with the career goal of becoming Commander In Chief of the Egyptian armed forces; and

GIVEN that currying favor with the Pharoah is an excellent tool towards achieving that goal, and

GIVEN that Pharoah has a beautiful unmarried daughter (Amneris) who just so happens to be crazy in love with Radames;

THEREFORE: wouldn't the smart play be to woo Amneris and end up as Pharoah's son-in-law, paving the way for a successful and richly-rewarded lifestyle?  Isn't this the no-brainer of all no-brainers, halleluia, amen? YES!  So here's the puzzle:

How come he rejects Amneris and moons over the Ethiopian-prisoner-turned-humble-slave-girl Aida?  I mean, she's pretty and all, but so is Amneris.  I don't get it.  Remember:  he is not aware (until it's too late) that Aida is royalty herself; that's a deep, dark secret. I sought professional help from an authority to explain Radames' psyche in terms I could understand.

Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Duana Welch.  Duana has a Ph.D in Developmental Psychology and teaches psychology in Austin, Texas.  She also has a very popular online blog called Love Science which is fun to read and highly recommended.  Basically, it's an advice column for folks with problems in the area of romance, relationships, and even sexual issues.  Instead of merely "good ol' common sense" (in which she's not lacking), Duana's advice is based on the body of scientific research at her disposal.

So I asked Duana (which, she wants you to know, is pronounced DWAY-nuh) to psycho-analyze Radames and dish about his total lack of savvy in choosing a woman.  Why, I asked, is he oblivious to Aida's lack of standing in society?  Here's her answer, in her typically breezy style:

"Radames need not be concerned about Aida's connections~ evolutionarily, he need only be concerned that she is young, beautiful (read: fertile), and hard-to-get (read: faithful). If she's got that going on, then he's already got what he needs. True, it would be politically correct for him to marry Pharoah's daughter and have an affair with Aida on the side, but...maybe Ramades is too classy for that!"

Light dawns.  Radames is not thinking with his brain, but with.....  *ahem* This is a PG-rated blog.  Never mind.  To put it more delicately, our hero has a biological imperative to perpetuate the species.  Men, I guess, are just not hard-wired to consider little things like education, social class and other trivialities in deciding who's attractive.  Wide hips and a full bosom go a long way, even in ancient Egypt.

Men - we're such pigs!!  Can I get an "amen", ladies?  And thanks, Duana!

1 comment:

  1. Okay, so Radames isn't the smartest guy in Egypt. But it seems to me that the three principles involved, with a little common sense and out-of-the-box thinking, could have resolved things very nicely.

    We know that:
    1) Radames loves Aida, passionately, and she loves him back.
    2) Amneris loves Radames, passionately; he does not love Amneris, though he doesn't seem to dislike her.

    Amneris surely understands she'll never have Radames's love as long as Aida is alive. But if she orders Aida's execution, she'll earn Radames's hatred, which is generally considered to be an undesirable trait in someone you want in your wedding bed. So it should be clear that the best she can hope for is half a loaf. So she should get everyone in a room and discuss things reasonably.

    Here's her proposition: Radames marries Amneris, setting himself up to be the prince consort (or pharaoh consort, or whatever) when Amneris becomes queen. He should agree that, as her husband, he will do his best to *ahem* please her. Which really seems to be all she wants, since I think we've established that she doesn't want him for his blinding intellect.

    If Radames agrees to this, Amneris will allow him certain visitation rights with the little hussy in the slave quarters. Say one night a week, or one night a month - we can negotiate the terms. This is common (in every sense of the word) and universally-accepted behavior among royalty; just ask the current Prince of Wales.

    Aida gets three things out of this: 1) regular quality time with her big guy, 2) continued comfortable employment as the future queen's favorite slave (you can bet she doesn't spend the days picking cotton), and 3) a whole skin.

    Nobody gets everything they really want here. But it's certainly better for all concerned than how things actually play out in the opera, where nobody gets anything they want.

    And if Amneris is really smart, once the arrangement has been set up, she'll give Aida an assistant.

    One who looks like Fabio.