Starting out from the standpoint of Hermann Hesse in the Steppenwolf-Traktat that characters on a stage can represent parts of a single psyche, I began in the 1980s to look at my roles in this light. My thinking harnesses cultural history to the interpretation of opera, which can be studied, like dreams, to uncover the Jungian archetypal implications of the characters and their relationships and situations for an identifying audience member, opera director, singer or student. The goal is nothing less than the integrative development of the personality. I owe a great debt to Professor Robert Donington, whose book Wagner’s Ring and its Symbols played such an important part in your studies of Wagner’s Ring last year. I met him and talked at length with him about the whole theme of archetypes in opera.
Together with the other great themes of love and aggression, a transcendent death and personal reconciliation play a large role in Verdi's operas. Many of them conclude with 'paradise' music which can only partly be explained by reference to nineteenth-century sentimentality or piety, or to human grief, of which Verdi had more than his share. It fuelled his creative forces over and over again. An important additional cause can only have been an unconscious identification with the archetypal symbolism of death: the loss of the power that an element in the unconscious previously exercised over the total personality, and its ensuing integration into the conscious; this integration can then lead to the overall personality's growth and transformation. The music of the conclusion of Rigoletto, Aida, La Traviata and La Forza del destino speaks of this. Its positive, spiritual quality refers not only to an after-life purged of the unpleasantness of this world, but also to a renewal of the personality in the present life. It is unimportant to speculate whether Verdi was conscious of the latter symbolism. It is there and can be heard in the sublimity of the music.
The opera Rigoletto is all about the hate and destructiveness which develop when archetypal yearnings for love (the search for the animus or anima) and death (personal transformation) are stultified and negated. The destructiveness in Rigoletto arises from the alienation of its protagonist. The ego's public image, that is to say its ʻpersonaʼ (Jung), can be represented for our purposes by the Duke, slavishly served by Rigoletto. The private ego is symbolised by Rigoletto as father. The mythical theme of the opera is the gradual substitution of recognition and integration for alienation and destructiveness through the mediating action of the anima-figure Gilda. As in a dream, the action revolves principally around the private ego: Rigoletto's emotional reaction to events is paramount and shown in much more detail than that of any of the other characters. This constancy of the dramatic point of view makes Rigoletto so intense as mythical theatre; many other operas are more democratic in this respect.
The story will then be told with music examples.
A note in conclusion about the practical use of these insights: ’Operating’
An ‘Operating Table’ about a selection of operas will be handed out.
Former diplomat and an opera and concert singer with a thirty-year career in Britain and continental Europe behind him; the present conductor of the Southern Peninsula Singers; a psychotherapist licensed in Germany; an ardent Jungian; and a writer and lecturer on the archetypal significance of the characters and action of many mainstream and less well-known operas.