Great moments in opera: Les Mamelles de Tirésias

January 7, 2010

Calling anything from Poulenc’s whimsical Les Mamelles de Tirésias (The Breasts of Tirésias) a “great moment” in opera is stretching the point.  Nonetheless, this was the opera which I heard this week, so I am stuck with it.

The opera is a gender-bending comedy in which Thérèse, casting off the obligations of a housewife (and also casting off her womanly adornments), seizes the feminist moment, launches a campaign against child-bearing, adopts the masculine name Tirésias, and goes off to wage war like a real man.  Meanwhile, her (unnamed) husband conceives of a means by which he can bear children without the assistance of any woman.  He proceeds to produce 40,049 children, all in one day.  He need not support them financially because they all have successful careers in the arts.  (This is a dead give-away that the opera is not striving for realism.)  After a few other plot twists, Tirésias returns as Thérèse and the couple is reunited.  The opera ends with an exhortation to the audience: Make babies!

The music of the opera is light and effervescent.  The melodies, while pleasing enough, did not linger in my mind, and I am somewhat at a loss as to which middling moment I should promote to greatness.  I have selected Non Monsieur, mon mari, the section in which Thérèse casts off Thérèse to become Tirésias.  I cannot find the text, much less a translation, online.  In this video the singer is Denise Duval, who sang many of Poulenc’s leading ladies.  Poulenc himself is at the piano, which I hope somewhat compensates for the absence of an orchestra:

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