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Female characters in operas are even more likely to die than henchmen in a Bond film. So why is opera out to kill its women?

By Martin Kettle   July 2009

Where would opera be without dead women? It is hard to think of any other art form more umbilically dependent on female mortality. The casualties stretch from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, written at the end of the 17th century, right through to Peter Eötvös’s Love and Other Demons, premiered at Glyndebourne less than a year ago. Thirty years ago, the French writer Catherine Clément wrote an entire book on the subject. The list of core repertoire operas in which the central female character dies includes works such as Bellini’s Norma, Verdi’s Rigoletto, La Traviata and Otello, Bizet’s Carmen, Wagner’s Tristan,…

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