Characters going down with the ship

“I am very muscular.” (Photo: Dario Acosta)

I love the opera.  I know that’s weird.  Every time I go, I’m usually the youngest by at least twenty-thirty years (I have a lot of weird quirks though, and I’m comfortable enough with them that it doesn’t bother me when other people think I’m strange).  Bizet’s Carmen is my favorite, followed by most shows starring Keith Miller (who used to be a football player) or Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

“I am also very muscular.” (Photo: his website)

I live nowhere near New York or anywhere really with an opera company, plus my entertainment budget can’t really afford tickets, so I’m really glad that the Metropolitan Opera has a program called The Met: Live in HD.  Every year they broadcast a dozen or so shows into movie theaters around the country.  Some of them are new live shows, and some are encores from previous years, plus during the summer they broadcast encores of everything  in case you missed one (plus these are cheaper, I think).

This past weekend it was Gounod’s Faust.  Yes, the same Faust that Newland Archer was at when he met Countess Ellen Olenska in Age of Innocence (a book that I love).  And a production that heavily influenced Mikhael Bulgakov when he wrote The Master and Margarita, which is the best book ever.  Read it.

Today’s production had been updated from sixteenth-century Germany to about 1918, and Faust, played by the wonderfully-coiffed Jonas Kaufman, was a nuclear physicist.  René Pape was awesome as Mephistophélès, blending in just the right amount of comedy to show us where Bulgakov got his Woland (the devil in his story).  Marina Poplavskaya didn’t completely suck as Marguerite.  I still prefer Goethe’s version of the story, but overall this one was pretty good.

Faust:  “I’m gonna hit that.”  Marguerite: “Oh, I’m so pure.  Nothing bad could ever happen to me.”Mephistophélès: “Mwahaha.” (Photo: The Wall Street Journal)

Except for the end.  I’m not a big happy ending person, and so Faust is just a bit too upbeat for me, with everything working out nicely.  Mainly, because Marguerite didn’t go down with the ship.

What do I mean?  Let’s look at a few other stories that illustrate my point (warning – spoilers ahead):

  • Carmen:  Mikaëla is in love with Don José.  Everyone expects them to get married, but then Don José falls for Carmen, does time for her, ruins his career for her, etc.  What does Mikaëla do?  She makes the dangerous trip to the Gypsy camp and brings him home to his dying mother.  Everything probably would’ve been better for her if she’d left him to rot, but no; she risks her life to save him. 
  • Stephen King’s Thinner:  At the end of the story, Billy has successfully contained the curse in a pie.  He gets home and finds that his wife and daughter are eating said cursed pie.  He could’ve said, “Sorry, I’m gonna let you suffer and die, now that I’m finally saved.”  But no.  He pulls out a fork and joins them.
  • Shel Silverstein’s The Giving TreeRemember this one?  The tree gives its apples, branches, and even stump to its kid.  It could’ve told him to F off, but no; it keeps giving until there’s nothing left.
  • Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita:  Margarita and the Master are in love, even though he’s kind of insane.  She makes a deal with the devil to get him back.  She could just marry another guy, but no.  She damns her own soul to save the guy she loves.
  • The Bible: I’m not religious, but there’s that whole Jesus guy thing illustrating my point, with his “Turn the other cheek” philosophy.

And then there’s Marguerite. “Hmm, I could go to Hell with the guy I swore I love, because that’s where he’s headed.  I could probably make a deal with Mephistophélès to take my soul and spare Faust.  Nah, I think I’ll go to Heaven and let my babydaddy rot.”  Despite knowing the ending before I saw the show, I was not happy with it.

So, barely-existent readers, what’s your preference?  Would your main characters save themselves, or would they suffer to save their loved ones?

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