Nora from Ibsen's "A Doll's House"

Nora, the main character in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," initially seems to have a good life: she is (seemingly) happily married to her husband Torvald Helmer, the mother of several children, and financially secure.

Their relationship is not as ideal as either of them think in the beginning. Nora is increasingly unhappy with being seen as a spendthrift or amusement, and being loved only for her beauty.

In the play, events from her past resurface: Nora borrowed two hundred and fifty pounds without his consent to save his health, secretly writing for an entire winter in order to repay it. She had told him the money came from her father, forging his signature.

Over the course of the play, Nora works to resolve the conflict, often in ways that counter her marriage. She discovers her own identity in the process. In the ending, controversial upon its publication and still distasteful to some readers, she leaves the marriage, her husband, and her children behind.


Green Finch and Linnet Bird
from Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd"

"Is that my little lark twittering out there?" -Torvald

Green finch and linnet bird,
Nightingale, blackbird,
How is it you sing?
Whence comes this melody constantly flowing?
Is it rejoicing or merely halloing?
Are you discussing or fussing
Or simply dreaming?
Are you crowing?
Are you screaming?
Ringdove and robinet,
Is it for wages,
Singing to be sold?
Have you decided it's
Safer in cages,
Singing when you're told?

This song corresponds to the beginning of Ibsen's play, which introduces Nora through the eyes of Torvald. We hear his various pet names ("little skylark," "little squirrel") and see him chastise her for asking for money. Torvald notices her unease, but dismisses it lightly, accusing her of buying sweets.

There are a few obvious surface similarities here - Johanna, like Nora, is compared to a bird. The song is Johanna's introduction in the musical. It falls in step with the rest of her characterization in casting her as the prototypical ingenue: a soprano, beautiful and a talented singer. The tone of the song is remarkably pleasant given her situation (she's been confined to her room by the villainous Judge Turpin). Indeed, a casual listen may make it seem like a cheerful, if slightly unhinged, song about birds.

The lyrics, however, tell another story. What sounds like pleasant chirping may be something with more personality - rejoicing, saying hello, dreaming, or something more sinister, like screaming. In other words, there is agency involved, a theme which recurs in Ibsen's play.




The Morning Belongs To The Night - Stina Nordenstam

The morning belongs to the night
Until it comes with a light
Until it's born with a spark
Until it outgrows the dark

And there it hangs for a moment
A breath of hope for a moment
Stands on its own for a moment
Free from the past for a moment

This song, although it can be heard and enjoyed literally, is a great deal more powerful if seen as symbolic.

Every line in the second verse is practically bursting with portent and anticipation, violins fluttering tentatively in the background - and then everything falls out, in an euphoric moment of musical release, drums and strings spiraling off on their own, only to be subdued for the second verse:

The morning belongs to the day
Already here with the grey
Already spilling with need
Already flooding with speed

With its voices and faces, neverending
With its half-spoken phrases, neverending
But its promise of outlasting light
Is just converted black in the sky

With its falling and waking, neverending
With its holding and breaking, neverending
Soft the darkness reflects in your eyes
But the black is just converted light

The melody is the same, but the instrumentation is more agitated, echoing back to the break that came before. It remains this way until the final stanza, quiet again, suggesting resignation.

When applied to Ibsen's plays, the "morning" represents Nora, pulled from keeper to keeper, husband and children, each promising their own rewards, but each failing to deliver. The end of the song ends peacefully, at least for the time being.


Emily Bezar - Lead

"What rubbish! of course he can't be in earnest about it. Such a thing couldn't happen; it is impossible--I have three little children." -Nora

This song corresponds quite clearly to Nora's condition towards the middle of the play, recognizing her growing doubts and thoughts of leaving, but ultimately, resolving to stay.

This is the room, this is the chair
This is the wire holding me there
One man leans to the left a little
One arm on me and I the middle ground

...

And who has not said,
"Oh, I can run away while they are in bed,
tell everyone I've been found dead?"
But as the words steal my blood away,
my silk slippers turn to lead.

The song begins with a circular, almost repetitive piano and guitar theme, playing under the beginning verses. During the chorus, the song slows down and opens up significantly,

For all that you say, all that you do
You may look away when he first looks at you
I have no more than the life I'm given
I have only the truth that I have found

Keep me awake, keep me alive
Give me the height, I could still dive
I am changing, but I'm still living
I am more than the things to which I'm bound.

In the bridge, the instrumentation grows louder and more insistent.

Just after this, however, everything drops out but vocals piano and "Hold me now," Bezar sings in a coquettish voice, and the song ends repeating the chorus, beginning with "My silk slippers turn to lead...." All mention of escape is gone. The song remains in a major key, with noticeably more pleasant guitar parts and chirping vocal flourishes in the background. Hearing this section of the song in isolation, a listener could be forgiven for thinking the whole song is in this mode. All the worries of the first half are, for the moment, forgotten.


"My dear darling Nora, you are dancing as if your life depended on it." -Torvald

This song corresponds to the tarantella scene in Act III. The tarantella, an Italian dance, is characterized by its energy and rhythm; although Kate Bush has stated that her song is influenced more by folk dances of Madagascar, the two dances have, at their core, the same feel.

Feel her hair come tumbling down
Feel her feet start kissing the ground
Feel her arms are opening out
See her eyes are lifted to God

The instrumentation becomes more and more frantic. The curious thing about this song is that, although the original fairy tale casts the red shoes as demonic and evil, the song achieves a kind of transcendence. The experience described here is ecstatic and not at all frightening. Every word bursts with energy: her hair tumbles, her feet kiss the ground, her arms flung out. Towards the end, it becomes almost a religious awakening. The moment parallels the one in the play, where Nora dances so wildly, it startles everyone else in the room, prompting Torvald to stop the music and stop her.


"I must stand quite alone, if I am to understand myself and everything about me. It is for that reason that I cannot remain with you any longer." -Nora

Lisa Germano - The Mirror Is Gone

If I needed you, would you love me then?
Would you love me then if I needed you?

Would you love me more
If I gave and gave and gave
And gave and gave and gave
And gave and gave?

Would you like me then, if I had to lie
And say, "I need you or I might die if you leave again
'Cause nothing matters
But you and you and you
And you and you and you and you?"

I'm nowhere
Unless you are there too
Well, that's no fair
To put me below you

You like me most
When I fall down
And can't stand up
Unless you're around

Forgive me
But I'm learning, learning
And I can't see
Your version of me

The mirror is gone

When you want me now
I won't be around
I'm taking care of
What you cut down

Alone and lonely as I can be
But better off than you
Or you or you or you
Or you with me

This song by Lisa Germano describes Nora's decision at the end quite succinctly. The song is, for the most part, simple both in lyrics and music. The instrumentation is primarily solo acoustic guitar, and the vocals are delivered conversationally. At times, Germano almost seems to be taunting the listener. The chorus, however, introduces a more prominent electric guitar and a more ambiguous tone to the underlying instrumentation.

Comments

I enjoyed the playlist a good

I enjoyed the playlist a good deal. I like the way you blend quotations and analysis of the text with really strong analysis of the music. I felt like the end was a bit abrupt. What I really like was the way that you took on the genre of the assignment, more or less making it your own and guiding the reader through. The more you can extend that, the better, I would say. Nice work.

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