You and I both know how often my opinion differs from that of the majority. Still, Sondheim's Passion reminds me again of this fact. Why else would I feel sorry for Fosca when everyone else hates her?
First, what's the story? In the 19th century, two young lovers (Giorgio and Clara) are separated when Giorgio is transferred to a military outpost. There, he becomes acquainted with the Colonel's sick cousin, Fosca, an ugly, diseased and unbalanced woman who frequently has nervous breakdowns. She becomes obsessed with Giorgio and starts tailing him, to his chagrin and frustration. But eventually, due to the power of her love for him (and due to the fact that his lover Clara isn't willing to split up from her husband and child to spend her life with him), Giorgio reciprocates Fosca's love. She dies soon afterwards, but what's done is done.
Now let's look at the first audience reactions. Here's what I don't get: they applauded when Fosca had nervous breakdowns. They were glad she suffered!! One person even yelled, "Die, Fosca! Die!" Sondheim saw this as a case of "the lady doth protest too much," and I agree with him.
There's really no reason to hate Fosca so much. OK, so she hounds Giorgio relentlessly when he doesn't love her, to his embarrassment and increasing (understandable) anger. She even asks him to pen a letter, fabricating his devotion to her. Yes, that's going a bit too far. Yes, she's obsessive, manipulative, and kind of parasitical. But then we get to "Flashback."
It turns out that Fosca has quite a tragic backstory. She married an Austrian count named Ludovic who turned out to be a gigolo already with a wife and child. What's more, he had developed a reputation for courting mistresses and then draining all of their money. By the time Fosca realized this, he had taken all her family's money. When she confronted him with this knowledge, he made no attempt to deny it. He then told her:
Forgive me, my dear,
But though you are no beauty,
You are not quite the victim you appear.
Well, let us part by
And be content.
And so good luck and goodbye.
I must go.
Oh, and yes, we haven't
Paid the rent since July...
Just so you know...
(copied from Passion album booklet, Rilting Music, Inc., 1994. Print.)
Geez. What a dickwad.
You can understand now why Fosca became the pathetic creature she is. But shouldn't people pity instead of be repulsed by her? Why so mad about Fosca?
Then I discovered a line which might provide a clue - the last line in "Flashback":
Beauty is Power,
Longing a Disease...
Maybe the audience reacted so violently to Fosca because they wanted to identify with beautiful characters, not ugly and pathetic ones. Clara and Giorgio are quite attractive. Of course the audience would root for them instead of sickly Fosca!! Beauty is Power, remember?
Meanwhile, Fosca's longing for Giorgio is portrayed as unpleasant and manipulative, so naturally the audience would revolt against it. Naturally they would agree that it's "a Disease," especially if it's coming from such a repellent person.
Source: tumblr.com via Ariel on Pinterest
But the truth is, there's pure love within that repellent frame. She loves Giorgio so deeply that she forces herself to live for him, is willing to die for him, and promises to leave him alone (if not forget about him) so that he can be happy. Her love is purer than Clara's, for it's unconditional; Clara's isn't. And, as Giorgio realizes by the end of Passion, "Love within reason - / That isn't Love" ("No One Has Ever Loved Me"). Don't you think that Fosca's Love is the real Beauty? The real Power?
Besides, how can anyone hate the character of Fosca so when they hear Donna Murphy sing something like this?
(Of course, knowing that Donna Murphy also voiced Mother Gothel in Disney's Tangled is kind of weird. But that doesn't change the fact that she has one of the most moving voices I've ever heard.)
To watch the full 1994 OBC show, click on this link. (You really should watch this, if you love tearjerkers. I don't remember the last thing I saw that made me sob so much or feel so fulfilled at the same time.) Or, listen to a few songs below. After you hear a few more songs from Passion, tell me your opinion of Fosca's Love.
'Till the next musical review,