One of the best bad science fiction movies of all time is Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Here's the plot: Mrs. Nancy Archer is a wealthy heiress, recovering(ish) lush, and recent releasee from a funny farm. She's married to a worthless jerk named Harry, who is messing around with a trollop named Honey. One night, driving alone in the desert, a tipsy Mrs. Archer runs into a UFO driven by an alien who looks like a giant Mr. Clean. Though Mrs. Archer doesn't realize it, this encounter of the cinematic kind infects her with a slow-acting form of giant-becoming-itis. When she tries to tell the police (one is comically innocent like Radar in M*A*S*H; the other is comically dour like everyone in Dragnet) that she had an encounter with a UFO, they don't believe her. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Archer becomes 50 feet tall. After escaping the chains in which she has been imprisoned, Mrs. Archer unleashes her woman-scorned fury against Harry, his Honey, and the astonished town. Harry dies in her plus-sized hand while Mrs. Archer expires in grief.

This movie should be turned into an opera. It's got a ton of great opera-type things going on in it: illicit love, betrayal, rube public servants, political commentary, an exotic stranger, and a female character who is very much larger than life.

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman: The Opera would fit perfectly into Seattle Opera's upcoming 2012–2013 season. Of these six shows, the titles of five—Turandot, Fidelio, La Bohème, Cinderella, Suor Angelica—are the names of or refer to female protagonists. The one opera this season that is not titled with a female name or role is La Voix Humaine, a one-woman show about one woman's voice. Three of the protagonists die or are defeated, one gets to marry the prince, and one rescues her man from political imprisonment. Each of these women dominates her opera like a giant.

Case in point, the season opener: Turandot. Turandot is a fairy tale about a pissed-off princess who has been wounded, like the pre-50-foot Mrs. Archer, by a guy. Determined to get back at males, Turandot executes every suitor who doesn't please her. The last time Seattle Opera mounted Turandot (1996 with Jane Eaglen), the production coordinator trawled around women's gyms and clubs to find female bodybuilders to cast as members of Turandot's Amazonian court. I was teaching a class on opera at a junior high that year, and we took a bunch of kids to see a dress rehearsal. They loved it all, but the thing they were most impressed with was "all the really buff ladies."

Turandot was Puccini's last opera, left incomplete at his death. As he neared the end of his life, the composer hoped, as he let his librettists know, "to strike out on new paths." Though his earlier work had been incredibly successful, Puccini began to feel it was, compared to what he wanted to do, burletta, or farce. His previous operas had been set in more or less realistic worlds (the two other Puccinis slated for the 2012–2013 season, La Bohème and Suor Angelica, are set, respectively, in 19th-century Paris and 17th-century Sienna), and most of them centered on a Suffering Woman who usually dies of love. In Turandot, he wanted to try something different: a fairy tale setting, a mythic conflict, a strong and triumphant female heroine.

The Turandot story entered Italian culture via the 18th-century playwright Gozzi's fiaba chinese tragicomica (tragicomic Chinese fable) of the same name. Gozzi had been inspired by the tales Marco Polo collected on his travels to the East and recorded in Il Milione. (This book also inspired Italo Calvino's modern masterpiece Invisible Cities.) One of the stories in Il Milione is about a Tartar princess who is, according to an opera guide I read, "of gigantic stature." She's a really buff lady looking for a mate who can best her in battle. Most guys can't, so she kills a bunch of them before she finds her match. When she does meet him, she's torn between being attracted to him and wanting to kill him.

Many writers (Schiller, Goethe, Giacosa, et al.) adapted this battle-of-the-sexes story before Puccini. One of the things that sets Puccini's version apart is what he does with the character of Liu. One of the female slaves, Liu is, unlike her gnarly mistress, a vulnerable, earnest, innocent girl who sure enough dies of love. As if no matter how hard he tried to deviate from the Suffering Woman archetype that had populated his work before, Puccini simply couldn't conceive of a story without one.

Maybe because he couldn't forget a little lady or two in his complicated personal life. Puccini had lived, for many years, with a fiery, married (though not to him) woman, Elvira Gemignani. Only after the death of her husband were she and Puccini able to make their arrangement legal. Elvira was fierce and passionate and fiercely, passionately jealous. She became convinced that Puccini was unfaithful, and in 1909 accused their maid, Doria Manfredi, of having an affair with her husband. Puccini and Manfredi both denied the affair, but Elvira kept insisting. Worn down by the accusations, the maid eventually killed herself. Elvira was sued for damages, Puccini had to pay, and in some ways he never got over it. The tragic females in his realistic early work began to pale compared to the real women in his life, so he looked to larger—mythic—stories as if they could give insights into human behavior that realism could not. As great a work of art as Turandot is, and as much as Puccini may have wanted it to, it doesn't solve the problems of envy or anger or misdirected love or what to do when our emotions get bigger than we can handle. Perhaps the composer of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman will fare better.

I propose the following cast:

Mrs. Nancy Archer: Stephanie Blythe

Honey: Anna Netrebko

The Giant Alien: Plácido Domingo

Harry: Jack Black

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Two Policemen: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Doctors, scientists, townsfolk, etc: the entire cast of Lost. recommended