Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Opera for Dummies

Sadly we've come to the end of opera season and only now do I come up with the idea of posting an "Opera for Dummies" weblog. I decided to get the tickets for me and the Mrs. (as opposed to my usual purchase of Hoyas b-ball and Redskins/Cowboys tix) as a way to improve on my culture--currently at a rate of 43 per turn. (I won't even explain that joke.) It is true, I came to enjoy opera from my study abroad days in Vienna (when tickets only cost $5--so I pretty much saw everything). But just because it is old, and in Washington, D.C.'s case, run by Plácido Domingo, doesn't mean it's always good. For instance:

1. This year's production of Verdi's Il Trovatore featured tin-foil looking swords, which performers clashed against each other out of sync with the orchestra--the swords were actually quite heavy, as I tested it backstage during a tour. (I would have loved dragging it around the city. Along with my cape.)

2. Billy Budd. Whoa! Must repressed homosexuality always manifest itself in murder? I know it's a long voyage, and Billy is quite a strapping dude, but did you have to kill him? Does it make you feel any better now? Master and Commander has a whole new meaning.

3. A few seasons ago I saw Bellini's I Puritani, the story of a woman madly in love with her man--so much so she becomes paranoid that he is cheating on her--he isn't--and when all is resolved, she still manages to go insane. But wait, she's better now. I think. They should have called this one I Crazy Bitch.

But there were some highlights too:

1. There is no other word to describe Mozart's The Magic Flute than silly. It's a fantasy that seems to take place in the land of the Smurfs (minus the Smurfs but with an overgrown man-bird). And with a happy ending, it is a refreshing change from your traditional final acts, in which the jealous lover kills his wife's friend, who turns out to be the long-lost brother, so she kills the lover and then jumps off a parapet.

2. Speaking of jumping off parapets, I saw the season-ending opera Tosca last night. This was a tremendous performance. If there is one name to remember, it's Salvatore Licitra, who played Cavaradossi. This guy may very well be the next Pavarotti. (Interestingly enough, it was when Pavarotti fell ill back in 2002 at the Met that Licitra stepped up--in the same role in Tosca.) This is as classic an Italian opera (Puccini no less) as they come, filled with romance, deceit, torture, murder, and suicide. Bring it on!


Anonymous said...

my opera experience:
my opera friend is a red-head.
she goes to opera with me because she likes me more than she dislikes opera.
i know this because during a scene from rigiletto, when the assasin is confronted by his whore sister, protrayed by a flaming red-head, she leaned over and whispered, "in opera/theater, all whores are red-heads". once this comment registered, i had to contain a full-fledged belly laugh until the music stopped.

Anonymous said...

Licitra was spectacular; his Vittoria aria represented the most powerful singing I have seen at WashOp (er WashNatOp) in years.

Re Billy Budd: Sam Ramey is Satan. The man has mastered the role of the evil one and this performance confirmed it (seeing him in Susannah, Mefistofele, Faust ...).

You did not mention the big disappointment in Samson, when the walls kind of rumbled but certainly did not tumble down.

Anonymous said...

Vic - using real swords, though obviously adding immensely to the excitement of an opera experience, would likely have the negative side-effect of diminishing the ranks of our Opera performers in rather short order. Of course to some real sword play may be worth the price, but to others it may be a loss.

You fail to mention in your list of Operas, the Opera watched by Palpatine and Anakin in ROTS (which, speaking of repression, during which Palpatine describes the dark side as consisting of things "some would consider unnatural", with a rather discomforting smile). If you thought that German Operas were confusion, try to figure out what was happening in that water bubble.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was an "Oprah For Dummies" post. I want my 4 minutes back!

Anonymous said...

I try to see one WashOp opera a year. This year a friend of mine and I saw Tosca. It was our first time with this opera. I always keep an open mind going in and am never disappointed, one way or the other. Our alternative title for the opera: "People unclear of the concept."

There's lots o'genuflecting, lots o'cross-signing, lots o' talk about how religious everyone is, but absolutely none of the characters exhibits anything that reflect sound Christian beliefs. Quite frankly, Tosca's "Art and Love" aria is nothing but an exercise in typical artistic self-absorption. Boo-frickin'-hoo. She's not too bright. That said, Ines Salazar deserved every single clap and "Brava!" she received. It was spectacular.

I agree with you that the singers were first rate. Licitra was fantastic, and his performance of Cavaradossi's ACT III aria was sublime. But Puccini is too 20th century: melodramatic and existential, depressing and annoying. I always leave one of his operas depressed that the 20th century turned out as bad as it did, and annoyed that I enjoyed the music so much. Puccini is like the Spielberg of opera, unimaginable talent in the service of a maudlin vision.

And like other WashOp productions, this one was quite awful. At one point someone who looks like the Pope leads a procession followed by a cardinal under a canopy. Again, unclear of the concept.

I'm still haunted by the image of Marzelline rolling around in a sand-box in the opening scene of WashOps' production of Fidelio a few seasons back.

How do you screw up Beethoven? WashOp will find a way.