September 12, 2010
A Night at the Opera
A few days ago, I went to the opera as an autodictat. "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini, as based on Beaumarchais 1784 play, wasn't my first opera, but I can't seem to remember when my last opera was. I arrived with an open mind and ears. I didn't know the story line. But everything was made simple in this production and by the end, I felt like I understood it quite well.
The orchestra began first. I forced myself to close my eyes and relax. I enjoyed the classical music opening like the meditative opening "savasna" of a yoga class.
When the curtains came up, a very theatrical set and decor were revealed: I was glad that it was a modern adaptation of the opera! The first scene had a real car parked in front of a three floor building facade. We could see an ice cream store and many balconies. We soon understood that it was early morning (I correctly predicted the opera would end at night, with the importance of the theatrical rule of unity of time and place). A serenade then took place, Romeo and Juliette like, with the young man singing to a girl standing on a balcony. Like Rapunzel, the maiden had been imprisoned by her tutor, an older doctor who wanted to marry her against her will.
When the building rotated for the second scene, a facade resembling a doll house, with partitioned separate rooms, and all the expected accessories in those bathrooms, kitchen and bedrooms, was revealed to us. The inhabitants were moving about in these rooms, going about their business. The rotation of decor between the facade and the multistoreyed interiors, was very ingenious and entertaining. This opera had the energy of "West Side Story", dynamic like a broadway musical but not cheesy like most of them can be.
The story, which dealt with the education and marriage of women was very Molieresque: the doctor was a misanthropist, like in "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme". Indeed, in the late 18th century the first feminists were men, like Moliere and Beaumarchais, who denounced the ill treatment of women in their plays.
All the while, the story developed like the novel by Alla Al Aswani, "The Yacoubian Building", with neighborhood scandals and social injustice. Indeed, this opera buffo includes both comedy and burlesque: a vaudeville of sorts.
Meanwhile I was attempting to set my priortities straight. Do I listen to the orchestra? The singing? Do I look and get distracted by the theatrics? For example the maid does yoga and abdominals, but the music and the voices were brilliant so theystill managed to draw me in.
The go -between, the Sancho Pancho, was the forefather of our modern day supporting actor role. Indeed , The Barber of Seville, named Figaro, facilitated the communion of the couple. The bright Almodovar colors of accessories and decor reminded us that we were in Spain (Seville).
As an opera amateur, such pleasurable moments remind me that I should immerse myself in this world more often. The opera world, intimidating to many, is actually much more accessible that one would imagine. Give it a try, you may love it too!