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Diagnoses of madness are inextricably entwined with social and cultural beliefs about gender and sexual behavior. The portrayal of characters in music theater as mad relies on contemporaneous understanding of mental illness, as often resulting from, or expressed in transgression of normative gender roles or heteronormativity, and this may apply either to male or female characters. Such transgressions are explored--with regard to recent reconceptualizations of madness within Disability Studies--in four works: Arnold Schoenberg's monodrama Erwartung (1924); Richard Strauss's opera Salome (1905); Kurt Weill's ballet chanté, Anna-Anna (1933), also known as The Seven Deadly Sins; and Igor Stravinsky's neo-classical opera, The Rake's Progress (1951).
Like Lucia di Lammermoor, the nineteenth-century opera with the best-known mad scene, Erwartung features a female lead character overwrought by emotion and driven to extreme behavior. Unlike Lucia, however, Die Frau--the main character in Erwartung--was created at a time when Freudian theory was spreading widely and permeating the consciousness of both its creators and its audiences, thus lending Erwartung wider interpretive possibilities. As the title character of Richard Strauss's 1905 opera, Salome is often regarded as the opera's source of pathological desire and mental disease; however, Herod also displays traits of madness, and these traits can be interpreted through the lens of gender studies as being essentially feminine. Anna-Anna, the protagonist of Weill's ballet chanté embodies, in this reading, the Freudian concepts of schizophrenia, homosexuality, and narcissism, which Freud regarded as being inextricably entwined with one another. Baba the Turk is an essential character in The Rake's Progress because she suggests and embodies a spectral homosexual presence in the opera. She "queers" Tom Rakewell, thus highlighting his madness as the result not only of a bad bet with Nick Shadow, but also of his inability to live up to the expectations of manhood in post-World War II America.
Jenkins, Megan B., "Madness, Sexuality, and Gender in Early Twentieth Century Music Theater Works: Four Interpretive Essays" (2010). CUNY Academic Works.