Wonderful Carlotta! The diva of the stage – self-inflated, difficult, overbearing, rude, arrogant, egotistical, and temperamental in nature, which are only a few of her outstanding personal qualities. Carlotta, was the reigning soprano of the stage at the Opera Populaire for many seasons. In Leroux, she is La Carlotta from Spain. In Webber, she is Carlotta Giudicelli from Italy.
The name Prima Donna, an Italian term for “first lady” of the stage or a female lead singer in an opera, carries with it many connotations, most of which are negative in nature. The term diva is also used to describe celebrated female singers. Leading ladies of the opera were historically known to be very demanding and high-maintenance individuals, who thought themselves privileged and above others in rank in the opera house.
How did others view Carlotta? Leroux says the Opera Ghost stated she “sung like a squirt” and “had a common place instrument,” meaning, of course, her voice. Leroux describes her personality as “celebrated, but a heartless and soulless diva,” which probably related to both her stage performances, as well as her personality in life. In Webber, O.G. asks the managers why they must continue to cast her when she is past her prime. He recognizes it is the time to replace the aging diva with emerging Christine, and through accidents and mishaps attempts to discourage her from the stage. The Phantom wants to further Christine’s career, and warns the diva not to sing or she should be “prepared for a great misfortune” when she opens her mouth. In retribution for her ignoring his warnings, along with the managers in allowing her to sing the lead in Il Muto, he makes her sound like a toad and embarrasses and humbles her in front of her audience. A fate, no doubt, worse than death to hear her adoring fans break out in laughter at the misfortune of her losing her voice, rather than hearing the accolades of "bravo" at the end of her performance.
In Webber, she obviously thinks highly of herself as the diva of the opera, but the cast and crew have a different view of her. They stuff their ears while she rehearses, and a man later “moons” her as she goes by. No one respects her. The managers learn early that in order to control her they must appease her by groveling. They beg, cater, and shower her with flowers, jewelry, and gifts to appease her demands for attention and adoration. The ultimate act of respect for her beauty was to drink champagne from her shoe, a tradition the French have been quoted as stating, “Champagne should be drunk straight from a beautiful lady’s slipper.” Poor Maestro Reyer endures the commands of the diva, and the cast endures her insults and outbursts. Even the movie makes a comedy statement of the demanding Prima Donna’s personality by depicting Andrew Lloyd Webber’s head on a platter that Carlotta holds in the portrait of Hannibal hanging in her dressing room. Perhaps it’s the moviemaker’s statement Prima Donnas even control the composers, producers, and directors or she will have their heads!
How did Christine view Carlotta? A rival to her aspiring career no doubt. She dreamed of the limelight that Carlotta possessed, and tasted the adoration of being a first lady herself, albeit briefly. Her great tutor was pushing her towards stardom in the opera world. Carlotta, of course, viewed Christine as competition that needed to be stopped, as she was invading her reigning territory.
Probably most of us who have walked through life have met some women who we would term Prima Donnas in their own right, even if they don’t sing. You know the type, arrogant, rude, difficult, and demanding. We have modern singers, as well, who have been given the title of “diva” due to their personality traits that match the description of demanding and difficult. Do you think Christine's ultimate success as first lady of the opera would have spoiled her personality, and she would have emerged as the next difficult Prima Donna of the Opera Populaire? It would have been interesting to see where success led her.
Our Prima Donna, Carlotta, possessed an inflated sense of self worth. Our dear Opera Ghost possessed a deflated sense of self worth. Both extremes at the opposite end of the spectrum of how individuals perceive themselves and the personalities that motivate their behavior in life. Perhaps Carlotta longed to be noticed and accepted in her own life, and her misguided way of obtaining it was through her obnoxious behavior. In contrast, the Opera Ghost longed to be noticed and accepted, as well, and his misguided way of obtaining it was through violence. Another lesson perhaps buried in the characters in the story of the Phantom of the Opera? What end of the spectrum do you find yourself? Are you a diva at heart like Carlotta or a broken soul like the Opera Ghost? Hopefully, you find yourself somewhere in the middle.
NOTE: If you are interested in learning more about historical Prima Donnas of the opera, I’ve added a book recommendation under Carlotta’s picture. Below is a link to an excerpt from the book, which you might find interesting, written by Susan Rutherford, entitled “The Prima Donna and Opera – 1815 – 1930.” Some of the excerpts from the book are viewable at the link and are quite interesting regarding opera life, singers, social life, and their adoring fans that sometimes polarized between opera stars. There is also a great definition of Prima Donna on Page 27.
The Phantom's Student (PS...I can't sing a note on tune.)
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