22 September 2013

Opera Mission

In for a penny, in for a pound: went to Covent Garden last night to see our first opera and pulled out all the stops. We aimed for maximum accessibility, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro.

It was lovely. The Royal Opera House is just a fantastic venue. We didn't know quite what to expect but overall it was much more relaxed and engaging and flat-out pleasant an experience than I would have guessed. Everything was nice, starting with the welcoming staff at the doors, followed by some friendly assistance inside as we took a moment to get oriented, then settling gently into the evening with  pre-show charcuterie and cheddar & chutney sandwiches in the grand, airy, and buzzing Paul Hamlyn Hall Champagne Bar.

First question in the ROH FAQ is on dress code. There is none. There were some folks dressed extremely nicely, and others in jeans. The crowd was excited, enthusiastic, and expressive. Quite a while ago I'd been to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and while the performance was outstanding, the experience was overwhelmingly stuffy and uptight, which was the fault of the audience entirely and not  the musicians. Maybe it's changed in recent years. Or was an aberration. I hope so. (Chicagoans normally bring to bear a refreshing midwestern groundedness.) Or maybe it's cultural. I've gone for a bit of the symphonic at Royal Albert Hall and found it to be a pleasantly joyful occasion. (Maybe Londoners are just that awesome.)

The performance was wonderful. More engaging, to the point of engrossing, than I'd expected. Moments of comedy, a bit of tension, and quite a lot of sadness. Figaro's taunting of Cherubino in Act 1 for getting commissioned into the military was done with such gleeful mocking that it was downright mean. The song, "Non più andrai", is a crowd pleaser, and was given a whimsical translation in the supertitles ("no more buzzing about, bothering the ladies").

Supertitles! Yeah, they were easy to read, unobtrusive, and the whole thing was really easy to follow. While quite a lot of the music was familiar for a variety of reasons (seen Trading Places?), I didn't bother listening to anything or reading up on the story beforehand. Not necessary.

The confusion at the end of Act II was delightful. The supertitled "(everyone is confused)" was well received at a very specific moment. I think it's only a matter of time before someone projects "(WTF?)" there.

The Countess is the character in the saddest role. Even the "forgiveness" at the end is more resignation to her lot than reconciliation. The Act III "Dove sono" by Maria Bengtsson, in which the Countess wonders where all the love and joy has gone and why, if the good has gone, the memories of happiness still remain, was beautifully sung and just heartbreaking.

Long before Act IV was in full swing I was well and truly hooked. The whole spectacle was pretty astonishing. Yeah, I kind of knew it wouldn't be people just standing around bellowing out arias, but that's not the half of it. Opera again? Oh yeah!


JustJoeP said...

I am so happy to hear you enjoyed it. DDF and I saw Marriage of Figaro in Phoenix and it was wonderful. Crowd was equally as diverse, from ball gowns, hooker dresses, tuxes, and suits, to jeans, goth, and bola ties.. the entire gamut was there.

While the Phoenix, we went to the Opera about 1/2 a dozen times (Tosca, Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, La Bohème, Salome, Barber of Saville) and it was usually enjoyable (with, or without Cognac flasks). M.of Figaro is classic, a great way to get introduced. Sous (or Super) Titles can be a help sometimes, so do not dismiss them off-hand (my Italian is VERY rusty, and even if it was good, my human brain has trouble processing 3 or 4 different voices singing different lines at the exact same times).

I hope you enjoy many more. =)

JustJoeP said...
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pyker said...

Not being dismissive of supertitles at all. Quite the opposite! I loved them and was attempting to praise them heartily. They were not only well done (I checked a few translations after the show and thought the ones I remembered from the performance I saw were the best of the lot), but also absolutely essential to my enjoyment. I don't think I would've liked it half as much if I'd not known what was going on or what people were saying.

JustJoeP said...

I've also found that the Resident Company does MUCH BETTER than the Traveling Company. In Greenville South Carolina, they had no resident opera group, so Bulgarians and Russians came and sang and rolled their sets out of semi-truck trailers (or are you obligated to call them "Lorries" once you get a permanent resident card?). The troupes were unfamiliar with the venue (the Greenville Peace Center having AMAZING acoustics) or audience, and they struggled to put on a mediocre performance, in comparison to the resident Phoenix troupes, who were hampered with poor acoustics, but knew how to PROJECT clearly, and play to their audience and venue specifics.

While I've enjoyed most of the operas and nearly all the symphonies DDF has taken me to, I've not been able to enthusiastically enjoy going to and watching ballet. Chacun ses merde.

pyker said...

We've gone opera-crazy! Well, at least the teen and I have. The two of us are going to see, this season:
La Fille du regiment

Only the last with the rest of the family.

zim said...

glad you enjoyed it. though i've been to CSO many, many times, i've never made it over to Lyric. should do, some day.

you're right about the CSO audience; they're unbearably stuffy. very High Culture, you know, and a great way to feel superior to those who are not going.

pyker said...

Shame about the CSO still. There's just no call for that attitude. Have now been to three operas and crowd has been consistently diverse and very good-natured. It's a wonderful night out. I love it.

Neil Steinberg's been writing affectionately about the Lyric for years. You should go I think!