Bianca Castafiore, by Hergé
|First appearance||King Ottokar's Sceptre (1939)|
The Adventures of Tintin
|Full name||Bianca Castafiore|
|Partnerships||List of main characters|
|Supporting character of||Tintin|
Bianca Castafiore (Italian pronunciation: [ˈbjanka ˈkastaˈfjore]), the "Milanese Nightingale" (French: le Rossignol milanais), is a fictional character in The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. She is an opera singer who aggravates particularly Captain Haddock as she pops up in adventure after adventure. Castafiore is comically portrayed as narcissistic, whimsical, absent-minded, and talkative, and seems unaware that her voice is shrill and appallingly loud. She is also wealthy, generous and essentially amiable, and has a will of iron.
Her first name means "white" (feminine) in Italian, and her surname is Italian for "chaste flower". She first appeared in 1939, but since the 1950s, Hergé has partially remodelled her after the Greek soprano Maria Callas.
The comical Italian opera diva first appears in King Ottokar's Sceptre, and is also in The Seven Crystal Balls, The Calculus Affair, The Castafiore Emerald, Tintin and the Picaros, The Red Sea Sharks, and would have appeared in the unfinished Tintin and Alph-Art. She is played on radio in Land of Black Gold and in Tintin in Tibet, Captain Haddock imagines her singing in Flight 714 to Sydney, and mentions her famous aria in Destination Moon. Although she is apparently one of the leading opera singers of her generation, the only thing that Castafiore is ever heard to sing are a few lines of her signature aria, "The Jewel Song" (l'air des bijoux, from Faust), always at ear-splitting volume (and violent force—certainly enough to part the Captain's hair, shatter glasses and a breeze enough to blow back a curtain in an opera box—"She's in fine voice tonight.").
At odds with her reputation as a leading opera singer, in The Seven Crystal Balls, she is appearing third on the bill of a variety show, along with a knife thrower, a magician and a clairvoyant. She is depicted as a preening, melodramatic diva, although she has a kind heart. In The Calculus Affair, for example, she provides a diversion to distract the sinister Colonel Sponsz so that Tintin and Captain Haddock can escape and rescue their friend Calculus. A recurring comic trope in the series is Haddock's aversion to Castafiore, who can never remember his name (addressing him variously as Hammock, Paddock, Padlock, Hemlock, Hassock, Havoc, Maggot,Bartok, and Bootblack, among other names). Gossip journalists reported a romance and engagement between Castafiore and Haddock in The Castafiore Emerald, complete with Castafiore showing a disgruntled Haddock the flowers in his own garden. This quite chagrined the captain, but not the diva, who was quite used to such inventions from the tabloids.
Castafiore was once falsely imprisoned by the South American dictator General Tapioca and Colonel Sponsz in order to lure Calculus, Haddock and Tintin to San Theodoros where they prepare a deadly trap for them and Tapioca's rival, General Alcazar. Their ruse backfired, not least because Castafiore expressed her contempt for her show trial and her life sentence with her trademark ear-splitting rendition of the Jewel Song. The court had to be cleared. In prison, Castafiore made her jailers suffer even more by throwing her pasta over their heads because they had not cooked it al dente.
Character background and influences
Opera was one of Hergé's pet peeves. "Opera bores me, to my great shame. What's more, it makes me laugh," Hergé admitted. And so, perhaps not surprisingly, he created an archetypical singer who makes the reader laugh.
Though la Castafiore is obviously Italian, her pet aria is from a French opera (Faust was composed by Charles Gounod) rather than the Verdi, Puccini, Bellini, or Donizetti one might have expected from a star of La Scala. Faust, and this aria in particular, was among the most famous of all operas in Hergé's time. Furthermore, the choice of this aria is intentionally comic. Hergé depicts the aging, glamorous and utterly self-absorbed opera diva as Marguerite, the picture of innocence, taking delight in her own image in the mirror, with the often repeated quote: Ah, I laugh to see myself so beautiful in this mirror!.
Bianca Castafiore is portrayed by Kim Stengel in the 2011 film The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, which merges plots from several books. Renée Fleming provided the singing voice. Although Sra. Castafiore invariably sings her signature aria in Hergé's books, in the film, the character presents a different aria, "Je veux vivre..." from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. Oddly, the lead-in (played by an invisible orchestra) is the introduction to yet another coloratura aria, "Una voce poco fa", from Rossini's Barber of Seville.
Bianca Castafiore is said to have been inspired by Hergé's own grandmother – Hergé believed that his father was the illegitimate son of the Belgian king Leopold II, but only his grandmother could have known the truth. He added subtle references such as operas that Bianca sang, referring to such stories.
- "Non,la Castafiore ne chante pas faux, c'est la Callas en BD". Le Figaro. 20 September 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
- "Les Aventures de Tintin - Bianca Castafiore". en.tintin.com. Retrieved 11 September 2018.
- Kim Stengel at IMDb.com
- Phillips, Sarah; Kingsley, Patrick (18 October 2011). "Tintin v Asterix : An interview". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
- Screech, Matthew (2005). Masters of the Ninth Art: Bandes Dessinées and Franco-Belgian Identity. Liverpool: Liverpool University press. p. 35. ISBN 085323938X.
- Petsalis-Diomidis, Nicholas (2001). The Unknown Callas: The Greek Years. Amadeus Press ISBN 978-1-57467-059-2, issue 14 of opera biography series, foreword by George Lascelles