Guten Morgen, Leute! One of my favorite things about musicals is that characters belonging to musicals have a certain added layer of complexity due to the use of songs. With some characters, songs make it easier to understand the emotions and the true feelings of the character in question. With others, the songs serve to add more depth and uncertainty to them. Today, I’d like to focus on the latter: on the characters who are difficult to really know.
DER TOD (DEATH) from ELISABETH
I suppose that it would be pretty odd if Death himself were an easy character to understand. In ELISABETH, almost every character sees der Tod in a different light: Sisi sees him as a sort of friend or love interest, Rudolf sees him as a comforter and almost as a guardian, Luchini presents and introduces der Tod as his master, and Franz Joseph sees him as an opponent or an enemy. So, yes. The situation with der Tod is complicated.
Throughout the musical, der Tod behaves in unpredictable ways. However, in certain moments with Sisi, he seems gentle, kind, and even loving. In “Mama, wo bist du?” [Mama, Where Are You?], when Rudolf asks der Tod is, he responds saying “Ich bin ein Freund” which translates to “I am a friend.” However, later in Act II, der Tod becomes antagonistic towards Rudolf, dragging him around like a rag doll. Yeah.
And yet, there’s a clear, glaring issue: this is der Tod, Death. Is he ever not an antagonist? And that is the difficult question that many fans have asked themselves. While Sisi does see him as a friend and, even, a romantic interest, it remains true that der Tod wants to take Sisi’s life. Why? Because he loves her. In “Alle tanzten mit dem Tod” [Everyone Has Danced With Death], he says “Ich habe sie geliebt” [I loved her]. Then, in “Elisabeth, mach auf” [Elisabeth, Open Up] he says “Elisabeth, sei nicht verzweifelt. Ruh’ dich aus in meinem Arm, ich will dich trösten. Flieh, und du wirst frei sein und alles Kämpfen wird vorbei sein. Ich führ dich fort aus Raum und Zeit in eine bess’re Wirklichkeit. Elisabeth! Elisabeth! Ich liebe dich!” [Elisabeth, don’t be discouraged. Rest in my arms, I want to comfort you. Flee, and you will be free, and all the fighting will be over. I’ll lead you out of space and time to a better reality. Elisabeth! Elisabeth! I love you!]
That all sounds well and good, right? Until Sisi’s reply reminds us that this is Death that’s talking and that Sisi accepting his love would be letting him take her life as she says “Nein! Ich möchte leben! Ich bin zu jung um aufzugeben! … Geh! Ich will dich nicht! Ich braucht dich nicht! Geh!” [No, I want to live! I’m too young to give up! … Go! I don’t want you! I don’t need you! Go!]
So… is der Tod a good guy in ELISABETH? Well… maybe. It all depends on your interpretation. Of course, the fact that this is the personification of Death, makes this very difficult. This personification of Death is able to love–or at least he claims that he is–and definitely seems to have emotions in songs like “Alle tanzten mit dem Tod”, “Schwarzer Prinz”, “Der letzte Tanz”, “Elisabeth, mach auf”, “Mama, wo bist du?”, “Die letzte Chance”, “Alle Fragen sind Gestellt (reprise)”, and “Der Schleier fällt.”
But for all that he seems to have the ability to love, the fact that the staging of each production of ELISABETH has a slightly different way of staging “Der Schleier fällt”, things only get more confusing. Some productions end with der Tod carrying Sisi away with him, implying that he really did love her and some end with der Tod leaving Sisi with his servants for them to take her away, implying that either der Tod himself has to answer to someone else or that love was just his means of luring Sisi to him.
What seems most possible to me is this: that der Tod did love Sisi. Sure, it can be argued that this is untrue but, hear me out for a moment. It is repeatedly said throughout the musical that “Alle tanzten mit den Tod, doch niemand wie Elisabeth” [Everyone has danced with Death but no one like Elisabeth] which, to some extent, indicates that whatever was between Sisi and der Tod was well… special and different. Luchini himself, an unreliable narrartor though he is, says that his motive for killing Elisabeth was love. And, seeing as Luchini calls der Tod “master”, I think that it just goes to show that der Tod had Luchini kill Elisabeth because he [der Tod] loved her and, as he says in the reprise of “Alle Fragen sind gestellt”, “es ist so weit” [it’s time]. But more than that, though, in the opening of the show, der Tod says “Ich habe sie geliebt” [I loved her]. And, at that point, Sisi is dead. There’s no longer any point in saying things he doesn’t mean.
So, yes, I believe that der Tod really did love Sisi. But, since so much about der Tod is left to interpretation, it’s impossible to know for sure.
FIYERO from WICKED
Alright… I’ll admit it. I really, really, hated Fiyero the first time I saw WICKED. He was, to the six year-old me the most horrible person. Why? Because he threw a book. Yeah. I still flinch a little when that happens in “Dancing Through Life.”
But nowadays, I quite like Fiyero and can appreciate his character growth.
So, what makes him a tough code to crack? Well… the fact that there is so much going on with him that happens in moments–things that would be difficult to spot if you weren’t paying attention. Moments like in “Thank Goodness” and in the lion cub scene.
Yes, Fiyero is a character I struggle with understanding and, while there are definite hints given to us in scenes like the lion cub scene and the scene before Elphie and Glinda head to the Emerald City.
So… I’m still struggling with figuring Fiyero out entirely. There are still some holes in his storyline that I want to fill and make sense of.
What characters do you think of as tough to truly understand? Danke und tschüss!