Death and taxes are supposedly the two certainties of life, and the same is true on the concert and opera stage. While many a singer confronts his mortality on stage, quite a few also run into the taxman. With the April tax-filing deadline upon us -- although this year it has been extended to the 18th -- here’s a salute to the heroes and heroines of the stage who dealt with a fate more aggravating than death.
1. Even in genteel 19th-century Austria, neglecting your taxes could land you in jail. That is the case with Eisenstein in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus. As the opera opens, he’s being chased down for defaulting on his taxes. He is successful evading the authorities for most of the opera until his identity and philandering are revealed at the end of Act III.
2. Who knows whether Manon Lescaut’s fate would have been improved had she not attracted the attention of the wealthy tax collector Geronte in Puccini's opera Manon Lescaut. Though Geronte doesn’t accuse Manon of tax evasion, he is able to get her arrested for theft and sent to the wastelands of Louisiana as punishment. She dies penniless, but in the arms of her true love Des Grieux.
3. The folk hero, William Tell is portrayed as a freedom fighter, helping the Swiss overthrow their Austrian oppressors in Rossini’s final opera. However, some accounts of the mythic figure show that the Swiss were rebelling against Austrian taxes.
4. Many operatic singers have performed the show-stopping and idealistic “Impossible Dream” from the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha. Those are words the imagined Cervantes of the play wrote for his character Don Quixote. Cervantes, a tax collector, meanwhile is awaiting trial on charges that he tried to foreclose on a monastery, So much for his dream “to fight for the right.” His persecution, in this case, seems to be one of the lesser offenses of the Spanish Inquisition.
5. Even Bach has taken a shot or two at the local tax collector. In his lesser-known secular work, the Peasant Cantata, a soprano and bass delight in life's simple pleasures. They also complain of its frequent hassles, such as visits from the tax collector. The couple begs the tax collector not to slap another land tax on them.