May 18, 2015

Casting "Mad Men" with opera characters

More cowbell? No - more horns and spears.
Funny thing - these days there aren't many movies at the cineplex I care to see, particularly when you have to take out a bank loan to pay for a small popcorn and a Diet Coke. On the other hand, we are living in the Golden Age of TV. Ever since ABC's "Lost" and HBO's "The Sopranos", there has been a historically excellent parade of compelling, eloquently-written, high-quality dramas.

Few have equalled, and none surpassed, "Mad Men".

As I write this, my TV is over-heating with AMC's pre-finale marathon of all the episodes in sequence. I'm also reading, in little blocs of dense, dense prose, Wagner's autobiography Mein Leben. I've never read it before. Pray for me. Experiencing both at the same time is.... otherworldly.

"Mad Men" is as close to art as TV is capable of producing. In fact, what am I saying?!? It definitively IS art; and at a high level at that. Fortunately, it's also addictively entertaining.

But I seem to recall that this here is an opera blog, so let's play a game: can we cast the principle "Mad Men" roles with corresponding opera characters? Gee - I hope so. Otherwise, this post is going downhill fast. So here we go!

ROGER STERLING = DR. FALKE 
Falke is the bon vivant from Strauss's Die Fledermaus. I can totally imagine Roger pranking Don Draper by arranging for Don to seduce a disguised Megan, unaware he's making out with his own wife. That, of course, was the same prank Falke played on his buddy Gabriel von Eisenstein. Also: like Falke, Sterling enjoys the company of attractive women, has an essentially man-child personality, and is good for a quip. And that moment when a tipsy Roger stood over Don in yet another bar, gave him a brotherly kiss on the cheek and said "You're okay"? He might just as well have launched into a chorus of Falke's big number, "Brüderlein und Schwesterlein"; it was a moment of Gemütlichkeit.

JOAN HOLLOWAY = CARMEN
Joan, of course, is the buxom red-headed partner at Sterling Cooper. She and Carmen have a similar way of interacting with others. And by "others", of course, I mean men. They both use their sexuality to get what they want, yet never seem to wind up with exactly what they wanted. There is a certain coldness beneath each of their flirty exteriors; the type of coldness that can manifest itself in casually cruel remarks. And, while Joan isn't physically butchered and literally dead, she is Carmen-like in that her professional aspirations and career are pretty much butchered by the misogyny of men, just as the misogynystic Don Jose puts an end to Carmen. Bottom line: both women discover that men want them on the men's terms and not their own.

PEGGY OLSON = PAMINA
Disclaimer: the only flaw in this parallel is that, to date, Peggy has no Tamino to live happily ever after with. But in a way, Don has functioned as her "work-Tamino". Like Pamina, Peggy has gone through multiple trials and hardships in order to become admitted to the "sacred brotherhood" of the business world on Madison Avenue and be recognized as an equal, just as Pamina battles silence, fire and water to find her way into Sarastro's realm. Both women have been at the point of giving up, though Peggy never went so far as to brandish a knife, as far as I can recall. Peggy and Pamina: they're both on a quest. Now, I know what you're thinking; you're thinking "YO! BLOG-BOY! Pamina never gave birth to an illegitimate child and then gave it away!" Okay, fine: throw in a tablespoon of Suor Angelica. Happy now? Let's move on.

PETE CAMPBELL = DON BASILIO
How to describe Pete? He's a scheming little weasel. For the opera-savvy among you, this should be a case of 'nuff said. But to review: Basilio is the scheming little weasel who slinks around the palace of Count Almaviva in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. I picture Pete more as Mozart's Basilio than Rossini's version in Barber of Seville. I mean, Pete would totally be a little whiny tenor, not a bellowing basso, know what I mean?

DON DRAPER = COUNT ALMAVIVA + WOTAN
The main mad man himself is so layered and complex a character that I decided a combo platter of two operatic gents would be required. So let's consider them separately. 
1) Almaviva (and I'm thinking of Mozart's creation) is the married man who has affair after affair, unable to resist the allure of a new conquest. Unlike Don Giovanni (who I also considered), Almaviva has at least some conscience. In this respect, he's similar to Don (hey! They're both "Dons"!) Draper's perpetual skirt-chasing, followed by perpetual guilt over his failures. On the other hand, there's 
2) Wotan. That's right: Wotan, the big-cheese head-god god of the cosmos. Or, the Norse cosmos, anyway. We won't waste time debating whether Don Draper has a god complex. I'll just point out that both characters are highly creative and even more highly tormented, prone to changing identities and roaming about in a shroud of mystery when needed. Wotan's creative vision includes constructing Valhalla; Don creates genius-level advertising campaigns and business plans. Wotan isn't above poaching Alberich's gold ring, and advertising guys are constantly poaching prime clients from each other. Wotan's relationship with his wife Fricka is stormy; he's a big disappointment to her. Ditto both of Don's disfunctional marriages, first to Betty, then later Megan. Realizing what a screw-up he is, Wotan bails on everything, adopting the mysterious identity of The Wanderer in Siegfried. He appears not to care if he's ruling the cosmos anymore. Oh, and his relationship with his daughter Brünnhilde is pretty painful. As for Don; well if any character in TV history deserves to be called "The Wanderer", it's Dick Whitman-cum-Don Draper-cum-Bill Phillips. Don's various screw-ups have caused him to turn his back on the advertising cosmos. In addition, his relationship with daughter Sally is difficult. When Betty divorced Don, he probably wished he could put a ring of fire around Sally to protect her from Betty. Which leads me to conclude that

SALLY DRAPER = BRÜNNHILDE
Sally is fully as rebellious, disobedient and independent - yet still loving - as the horned Valkyrie herself. I can totally see Sally going against Dad's instructions to help Siegmund win a battle, followed by Don breaking Siegmund's spear in two. 

BETTY FRANCIS = THE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT
The worst mother in TV looks in the mirror and sees the worst mother in opera. There you go.

HEY WAIT - maybe Don is the Flying Dutchman! Cursed, wandering, tormented, a ghost of a man, hoping to find the One who can redeem him, yada yada yada. Oh crap, I don't know anymore. Your ideas are doubtless as good as mine... Sorry, I've gotta go. They're showing the episode where Roger takes LSD.






  

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