Saturday, July 4, 2015

A Night at the Opera

Is this the real life, or is it just fantasy???  11 out of 10 specialists in stuff agree that dwelling on the past is useless, and I try to listen to specialists, particularly when I've gone to the effort to make up statistics for them...thus I haven't made a huge deal out of the fact that I was originally a band geek.

As in, like, a GIGANTIC nerd.  

Yes, I went to band camp (I also played the flute, but I was in middle school, so no American Pie references, please).  

When I started college, I had every intention of growing up to be a concert flautist, and one of the classes you had to take was a listening lab, in which the classwork involved going to concerts.  The shows the conservatory put on were all free, if you got your ticket at least 24 hours ahead of time, and so suddenly all my dreams of being classy and going to the opera were coming TRUEEEEEEE!!!  Well, I eventually gave up on the whole musician thing (mostly because I couldn't actually get INTO the conservatory), but I still love going to the opera, even though sometimes the lovers need to just fucking DIE ALREADY so I can go home.

The last time I went to the opera in Italy that was definitely the case.  It was a rendition of Verdi's Aida staged in Verona's Colosseum.  Normally I would think that watching an opera in the most intact Roman colosseum in Italy was totally gucci, but it started sprinkling about the same time they let us in to get seated.  And when you play a delicate musical instrument that costs several thousand dollars, the show does NOT go on when rain is involved, thus is was two in the morning before it was over.  However, opera is the artistic equivalent of football for Italians, I went then, and I went again last night, since Teatro la Fenice gives me even more artsy street cred.
Teatro La Fenice (Fenice meaning "Phoenix," which is ironic since it's burned at least a couple of times) is the kind of dope yolo swag opera theater they show you in movies and tv and stuff when people go to the theater.  It's posh.  It's got velvet seats and honest-to-goodness boxes.  I spent almost as much money on the bloody ticket as I did on the cooking class I did yesterday morning (more to come on that another day).  I was hoping for a Verdi opera, because nobody knows how to use a drinking song in an opera quite like Verdi, but I settled for Vivaldi's Juditha Triumphans, because I know how it ends (no spoilers yet...keep reading).
The theater was absolutely stunning, so I was expecting great things from the staging.  However, I had my first misgivings when I noticed that the orchestra pit was actually an orchestra platform.  The band, in all their glory, with all their reading lights, were kind of a distraction, and the divas...oh yes, all the characters were played by women.  Apparently Vivaldi wrote it for the girls' orphanage at which he was music master, but it took the supertitles for me to figure that the badass I originally thought was the title character was actually the antagonist...actually moved around the orchestra, as well as having the stage behind them.  Instead of having an actual set, they used stripes of light through smoke and artfully arranged wooden cubes, when they were called for.  It was very interpretive and minimalist, and was a stark contrast to the theater.  I didn't particularly care for it.
Don't ask what the secret ingredient is...
Okay, spoilers coming - watch out, opera fans.  Judith is a biblical story, but even if you've read your Bible cover to cover, chances are you haven't heard of her.  Protestant bibles group her with a number of other books known as the Apocrypha (also known as Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Bible), since most scholars agree at this point that it's not actually historically based.  It IS, however, a pretty badass story.  Judith is a young Jewish widow during a time the Jews are at war (you can assume it's Babylon, but let's face it - most of the Old Testament is carnage...that is, once you're past who begat who and all the rules about who you are not allowed to sleep with).

Anyway, she gets fed up with her countrymen who are participating in one of the world's great pastimes - whining about how things are without having the faith to actually do something about it - so she puts on her big girl pants and ingratiates herself to the enemy general, Holofernes.  Then she gets him schnockered and chops of his head with his own sword.
Thanks to 11 Points for the great illustration of the importance of art historians
Well.  The staging may have been okay, and it may have taken a really long time to get to the freaking point (I know - it would have been a very short opera if they didn't sing every line three times, but it was hot in the theater!) but in the end, Juditha Triumphans failed to disappoint.  When she cut off his head a whole rain of red...stuff? beads maybe???...fell from above the stage and hit the floor at the same time.  SPLASH!  Best part of the staging, game over!  Judith waved the sword around a little more and there was more singing - and the singing was phenomenal, and the orchestra was absolutely sublime.  I realize I'm being a real jackass, because I'm not really talking about the central point of going to the opera, aka, the performances, but I'm not a music critic and it would be stranger if you went to an opera in Italy and it wasn't outstanding.  These people take their opera seriously.  

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