Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Confessions of an opera virgin

I went to the opera for the first time on Saturday night. The Barber of Seville was on and when I saw the billboard, I thought, "Oh, I've always wanted to see that!" It was only after the tickets arrived that I realised it was actually Sweeney Todd that I'd always wanted to see. Demon barber, not cheery, sneaky barber. There is a difference.

But there are a few things about the opera that you just don't expect. I've never even sat through one on TV, largely because a soprano hitting the high notes makes me fear my spectacles will shatter. So for other opera virgins, here's a bit of a run-down of what to expect, should you ever find opera tickets in the street.

You can't take a bottle in
I think this is rather uncivilised. After all, had I wished, I could have taken beer into last night's Crowded House concert, but there was no taking even a little glass of champagne to the opera. I don't want beer in a plastic cup, but a nice little glass of wine would have been lovely. Instead, I had to content myself with a large serving of whine, which is no substitute at all.

There's lots and lots and lots of repetition
For example, the words, "I need a martini" might flash up on the surtitle board above the stage. (Forgot your specs? Forget it!) The people on the stage, though, will keep singing for five minutes. I imagine it turns into something like "Row, row, row your boat". "I need a... a... mar-ar-ar-ar-teeeen-neeh, a martini, a martini, a martini (with an olive, olive, olive, olive, olive). Martini! Martini! She wants a marteeeeeeni! She wants a marteeeeeni? Yes, a marteeeeeeni! Olive, olive, olive, olive, olive... a maaaar-teeeee-eeh-eeeh-eeeh-eeeeeeeeeeeeh-neeeee..." etc. But since I don't speak Italian, they could just as easily be saying, "Weather's been a bit shit, hasn't it? And how about the cricket, eh?" Who knows?

Opera time is different
It's a little like Indian time. Things will happen in their own good time and there's no use forcing them. In The Barber, Figaro suddenly realises someone is coming and he and the two loves, Rosina and the Count, are about to get sprung. So what do they do? They spend the next five minutes singing 12 rounds of, "Someone is coming, we must be very, very quiet. Very quiet! Who could it be?" etc. (See above re repetition.)

If you face away from someone, they won't be able to hear you
Obviously, there's not a lot of privacy on an opera stage, especially when you have to sing quite loudly. But if you turn your back on someone, hey presto, they won't be able to hear you. Quite a useful skill, really. If only it worked for snoring.

Men still wear dinner suits to the opera
Who knew? I think it's rather lovely, though. But a note to the chap sitting next to me, when Figaro finishes the solo (even if you don't know opera, you know this one - "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro", etc.) and the audience rises to their feet to appluad, it can rather spoil the effect if everyone for six or eight rows around hears you say, "Sheeeeee-yiit! What a voice!" Sigh.

Opera singers need to get over themselves
Despite the fact that Rosina looked something like an anaemic bung fritz (that's a Devon with an orange skin that's been given a little waist by bits of string, Eastern-Statesers) and having scant actual singing ability, she still took a number of bows. Her hands were clasped over her heart as though she were curtsying to the Royal Box (though why the Queen's map of Tassie requires all that special attention is beyond me) and a rain of red roses was about to fall at her feet.

Oh, and opera girls don't look like skinny little Phantom of the Opera heroines. They've got big lungs (whether they can stay in tune or not) and seem to tend towards rotundity.

So, do I like opera? Well, yes, but I couldn't eat a whole one.

Oh, by the way - the four-legged spider has vanished. Has he gone to the pub for a pint (though that was six days ago now) or did he finally drop dead from choosing a stupid place to set up camp? The choice is yours.

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At 11:01 pm, November 14, 2007, Blogger eleanor bloom said...

"Royal Box" *hee*

Really, they've got to start making operas BYO. As if you can get through a whole one sober! Mama miiiiiiiaaa! Mama mia!!Mama mia!! Whaaat are they thiiiiiinkiiing!!? Thinking!Thinking!

At 3:14 pm, November 15, 2007, Blogger Milly Moo said...

Agree with you - decided not to see it (even though an actor friend of mine is in it) - Mum and I saw 'Pagliacci' a few years ago and that was enough for me. Just say that you can tick 'seen and survived an opera' off your To Do list in life.

At 5:39 pm, November 15, 2007, Blogger River said...

I don't like opera. The bits I see on tv advertising occasionally are more than enough.

At 8:38 am, November 16, 2007, Blogger kiki said...

i wear a dinner-suit to the bakery

At 6:33 pm, November 16, 2007, Blogger phishez_rule said...

Sounds like I could be the ultimate opera singer. Except that I can't sing. Ahh well.

At 6:40 pm, November 16, 2007, Blogger Lonie Polony said...

Uncultured low-brow that I am, I have yet to see an opera. I did enjoy the ballet though, those two times I went, and am hoping I'll actually be able to see them next time the Bolshoi come, if my current infant will be able to do without me for a few hours...

At 12:00 am, November 18, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

eleanor, I know! I'm sure you can get perfectly nice little eskies that coordinate with dinner suits.

milly, true. Now I can get on with whitewater rafting and having Clive Owen for breakfast.

river, smart chook.

kiki, and a smoking jacket in the evening? I hope so.

phish, you and me both, babe :)

lonie, I know I should try ballet. I just have this deep and abiding hatred of dance. It's a blind spot, I know. But if I were caught in a bear trap in front of a modern dance performance, I think I'd chew off my own leg to get away.

At 7:07 pm, November 18, 2007, Anonymous Teddy said...

It's not just that Opera Singers sing in a foreign language just so you wont know that they have forgotten the real words, its that obesity seems acceptable for them to boom out a big voice to numb your senses and you believe that they are talented. Yep, you need a drink just to piss off those prats in dinner suits. I reckon you could even fart and it would appear to be part of the show

At 10:32 pm, November 22, 2007, Blogger tonypark said...

I really liked Madam Butterfly - my first and only opera - which I saw in Sydney, especially once I realised it was actually a rip-off off of Miss Saigon.

The best (in fact the last) theatrical performance I saw was "Annie" performed by the Harare amateur dramatic society. Zimbabweans playing depression-era Americans was surprisingly funny, but what really made the night was the fact that it was BYO. I went in with six bottles of Castle and was able to get another six at intermission. Now THAT'S the way to watch a musical.

At 12:55 am, November 23, 2007, Blogger redcap said...

ted, I think I'm going to need a hipflask to enjoy opera. A large hipflask.

tony, they undersand how to drink in Africa, don't they? It's far more civilised. They understand that if you can't take the cool box in, it's just not worth attending. Bloke is due back on Sunday and I think he's going to need a few days to dry out from the farewell manpour and friendship drinks ~shudder~


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