In the opera "Jessonda", what is the prospective peril for the title heroine?
"Suttee" or "sati" is the banned Indian subcontinental custom of ceremonially immolating a widow along with the corpse of her deceased husband and his worldly goods in a funeral pyre. While largely eradicated in the 20th century, the last known "suttee" occurred in September 1987.
The opera "Jessonda" (1823) by Ludwig Spohr (1784-1859) takes place in Goa (in uploaded photo) in 16th century Portuguese colonial India. It is based on the play "La Veuve (Widow) of Malabar" (1770) by Antoine-Marin Lemierre (1733-1793). The title heroine Jessonda is a Ranee/Rani, wife of the Raja/Rajah, who has just died as the opera begins. The opera thus revolves around Jessonda's grim prospect of suttee. However, she was previously in love with Tristan d'Acunha, a Portuguese general who upon realizing Jessonda is his long lost love stunts her suttee by authoratative mandate.
While long consigned to 'connoisseur curio' status, "Jessonda" may be the only known opera where suttee is a topic. Incidentally, in the somewhat more familiar French opera "Lakme" (1883) by Leo Delibes (1836-1891), the title heroine commits suicide by either ingesting the deadly perfume of "datura stramonium" flowers or actually eating a blossom, upon realizing her British colonial officer love interest has left her. "Lakme" may be best known to those who may have little to no interest in opera in a British Airways ad using the 'Flower Duet' from Act I sung by Lakme and her companion Mallika.