The romantic period in art and music is a time that focused on the regular person and had a fascination with nature, emotion, and death. One of the most common themes used was disease. One of the more common diseases of the time in both opera and real life was tuberculosis. In opera tuberculosis is always brought upon the same type of person time and time again and is always shown both by the character, and also though a series of metaphors. This character is always a woman and these “tubercular heroines” always are young, beautiful, frail people who need to be protected. This is the case in La Bohème by Puccini. La Traviata by Verdi, and Les Contes D’Hoffmann by Offenbach. In this way tuberculosis is always seen in a sort of anti-feminist light. Why is this the case and what are some of the ways tuberculosis is shown to us in the text and in the music and what metaphors convey the romantic understanding of tuberculosis? In Verdi we see the common metaphors of flowers and farewells both because of her short life, similarly in Puccini the metaphor of flowers is used but there is also the metaphor of light, temperature, and color used to show the symptoms shown with tuberculosis. In Offenbach the use of flowers as a metaphor is still used but this show points in an even greater anti-feminist and anti-disabled way by always putting the woman under the control of a man and by constantly making fun of the disabled. In all of these stories the heroine is a young beautiful woman who falls in love but eventually faces their demise at the hands of their deadly disease.
Goldberg, Daniel, "“A flower which blossoms and fades”: Depictions of Tuberculosis in 19th-century Opera" (2016). Student Scholar Symposium Abstracts and Posters. 212.