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Karma Houdini / Theater

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  • The Duke of Mantua in Verdi's opera Rigoletto is The Casanova, and his "love 'em and leave 'em" ways result in many broken lives. When Count Monterone protests the Duke's seduction of his daughter, the Duke's court jester, Rigoletto, persuades the Duke to have him executed, and the Count curses both of them before he is led off to die. But when Rigoletto is the one whose daughter is dishonoured by the Duke, he hires Professional Killer Sparafucile to bump him off... except Sparafucile's sister Maddalena, who lets herself be seduced by the Duke so that the assassin can kill his mark when he is at his most vulnerable, falls In Love with the Mark and persuades Sparafucile to spare him, and Sparafucile agrees as long as he can find a man to kill and present to Rigoletto as "proof" that the job is done. The "man" he kills is a disguised Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter, who sacrifices her life for the Duke despite knowing he is unfaithful, and the opera ends with Rigoletto crying over her dead body and the fulfillment of Count Monterone's curse. As for the Duke? The last we hear of him, he is happily wandering away from Sparafucile's house, singing his signature aria, "La donna è mobile", completely unaware that Rigoletto nearly had him killed.
  • King Francois I in the play on which Rigoletto was based, Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse, shares with the Duke of Mantua the trait of ruining the lives of many women (and the husbands, brothers, and fathers who love them) by bedding them and then moving on. His previous victims include Diane de Poitiers, whose father, the Comte de Saint-Vallier, curses the king and his jester, Triboulet, for mocking his anguish. Triboulet later hires assassin Saltabadil to commit regicide when his daughter, Blanche, becomes the king's latest conquest, but Maguelonne, Saltabadil's sister, has fallen in love with the king while carrying out the plan to kill him, and persuades Saltabadil to spare his life. The assassin agrees, and Blanche, who has also fallen in love with the king despite seeing firsthand that he is a serial womaniser, gets Saltabadil to kill her instead. In the play's final act, King Francois strolls merrily into the distance singing about how fickle women are, while Triboulet is left sobbing that he has caused his own daughter's death.
  • Alberich in Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen is the Big Bad, yet somehow manages to not get killed; he's nowhere seen in the Kill 'em All ending of Götterdämmerung. It's debatable if he survived that long, however: an indefinite amount of time passes between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and Alberich's only scene in the latter is him appearing as a dream-like vision to his son Hagen. One could easily interpret this as him being a Spirit Advisor already dead of old age, but Wagner (who relied heavily on the extended Info Dump) never says anything about what happened to him after he was last heard laughing in Siegfried.
    • Which, incidentally, is also the current status of Doctor Who's Master.
    • At least one production, the great Copenhagen Ring, has Hagen kill him at the end of the "dream" sequence. Not only does it fit the music very well, it also fits into the general theme of the cycle: Hagen doesn't want to share the Ring with his father.
    • Of course, it could be interpreted that Alberich living without anything to show for renouncing love is punishment in itself.
  • Jigger in Carousel. "He got away."
  • Oberon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Essentially, to allow himself to steal a human servant from his wife (whom she won't give up because he's the son of a close human friend who died in childbirth), he drugs his wife to make her lovestruck, and then tricks her into handing over the child when she's not herself. He also tells Puck, completely on a whim, to help out a human couple he found in the woods, indirectly causing a significant portion of the conflict in the play. While he does eventually solve the conflict with the star-crossed lovers, when he releases his wife from her spell, not only is she not angry with him for enchanting her, but also appears to have completely forgotten the entire reason for their feud.
  • Jim Conley in Parade. He rapes and murders a girl, but Leo Frank takes the fall for it and is eventually lynched. Also, Conley testifies against Frank in court. None of the Klan members who lynch Frank are ever punished either.
  • Medea in Euripides' play Medea. After her husband Jason leaves her for Glauce, the daughter of the King Creon of Corinth, she poisons some clothing of Glauce. Glauce is poisoned by the tampered clothing and Creon dies trying to save his daughter. Then, to destroy her husband Jason completely, she stabs her two sons to death offstage. As Jason mourns the loss of his two sons, Medea escapes in a golden chariot of the sun god Helios.
  • Cinderella's Stepmother in Into the Woods. While her daughters get blinded by pigeons, she, who is probably the most responsible for Cinderella's misery, makes it through the show more or less intact.
    • However, it is strongly implied in the finale that she, along with her husband and daughters, got lost in the woods and starved to death. Not such a Houdini after all..
    • And there are the princes, both of whom abandon their wives to be slaughtered by the giantess (one actually is, AND no mention is ever made of her two children surviving the attack on the castle.) One prince seduces a married woman, and when she learns her lesson, she promptly dies. The princes both wind up with new women by the ending.
      • More true for Cinderella's Prince than Rapunzel's, as the reason Rapunzel's Prince was out wandering in the second act was that he was searching for her.
  • In the musical Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II is an alien plant that convinces meek Seymour to kill people for him. Despite the play being a comedy, Audrey II not only survives at the end of the play, but gets away with his alien invasion.
  • Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. This was changed for The Movie, where Executive Meddling added a scene of his wife Stella leaving him. In the original play, though, she remains willfully ignorant of the fact that he raped her sister. However, considering that this happened before, it's likely that Stella will come back to Stanley.
  • Evelyn in "The Shape of Things" Everything she ever told anyone before the penultimate scene was a lie, part of her project to shape Adam into a more physically attractive and "interesting" person. The fact she she is not even a little bit sorry for ruining Adam's, Jenny's or Phil's lives (or at least making them all miserable), combined with the gall to try to make what she did equivalent to Adam's more minor sins (cutting off all contact with the other two when she asked it of him, as well as kissing Jenny) is truly sickening. However, we don';t get to see how she's graded for her project, and she mentions having to go to a meeting to explain herself to the dean, so there may in fact be consequences to her actions.
  • The Thénardiers in Les MisÚrables. Given that they're effectively living manifestations of the evils of 19th-century France, this was inevitable. They even gloat about it in a reprise of their Villain Song:
    Masters of the land, always get our share,
    Tear away the barricades and we're still here!
    We know where the wind is blowing.
    Money is the stuff we smell.
    And when we're rich as Croesus
    Jesus, won't we see you all in HELL!
  • Pearl in Starlight Express. Boasts about how new and shiny she is, then rejects a nice guy (Rusty) whose love is pure; steals the boyfriend (Greaseball) of her best friend (Dinah) and is cruel to the poor abandoned girl about it, and is rewarded with a happy-ever-after ending with Rusty. Women, eh? Can't live with 'em, can't scrap 'em in a privatisation of your railway service.
  • In Twice Charmed, Franco gets away, though the Tremaines don't.
  • In "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder", Monty Navarro is a perfect Karma Houdini. He murders 6 people, gets tried for the one he tried to murder but didn't, gets acquitted due to the collaboration of his wife and his mistress, has his tell-all memoir returned to him unread, gets the wife, the mistress, the castle, the earldom, the wealth and family name. He even kills off the only potential rival for all this in the curtain call!
  • Feldzieg of The Drowsy Chaperone attempts to stop Janet and Robert's wedding by having Aldolfo seduce Janet, and when that plan fails, but the wedding gets called off for unrelated reasons, his glee is thinly veiled at best. Nobody ever really addresses this, and he gets a happy ending with Kitty in the eight-man wedding at the end. Also, Feldzieg doesn't seem all too miffed that the Gangsters/Pastry Chefs were ready to kill him just before he managed to turn their pastry-themed threats into a dance number.
  • Lizzie is about Lizzie Borden, and while we'll probably never know for sure who murdered the Bordens, this show is firmly in the "Lizzie did it" camp. So, naturally, she gets away with it.