Me and opera, we go way back
I went to my first opera, i Puritani by Bellini, when I was about 28.
I went to the hairdresser for a wash and blow-dry at lunch, and left work early wearing my new lace top (bought at the original Filene’s Basement for $11). I purchased my ticket at the box office window of the Emerson Theater, and was delighted with my third row seat.
The guy next to me unwrapped a chocolate bar and proceeded to eat it after the lights went down and the opera started (“I didn’t get to eat anything before I got here,” he told his date—which wasn’t me).
With the lights turned off I couldn’t read the program, and with the opera being in Italian I couldn’t understand what they were singing, but the costumes were nice and it seemed to be about a guy and a gal and possibly another gal, and a third gal that everybody seemed to be impressed with…and when I came back after intermission and stretched my arms above my head I realized that the subtitle screen was exactly above my seat.
I was right, it was kinda about a guy and a gal and another gal, although not exactly for the reasons you might think (Oliver Cromwell is intoned at one point, which never happens in love triangles).
But I was very proud of myself: I was properly, operatically behaved, I was totally okay with going by myself, and I discovered that you don’t have to actually understand what they’re singing to understand what they’re singing about.
Because of (or perhaps in spite of) my first opera, I was awfully excited to see the Met’s Live in HD broadcast of the Saturday afternoon performance of Tosca.
Tosca is theeeeee opera, and sopranos love singing it because it gives them a chance to portray a diva (because, being operatic sopranos, they aren’t themselves such a thing).
It was kind of exciting to have the show be sold out ten days beforehand at the movie theater I had intended to go to. Wow, this “afternoon at the opera movie” thing was really taking off! I had to find another movie theater that was showing it, and got one of the last tickets they had.
This is the Tosca that got booed on opening night. Apparently some people liked neither the updating of the sets, nor the murder scene (I’ll go out on a limb here and say that those people were probably the people who shelled out one thousand, two hundred, and fifty dollars for their tickets. Each.). At least they weren’t booing the singers…
Great, I don’t know anything about this opera and now there’s this whole “I liked the old one better” thing going on.
Was I about to sit in a movie theater for three and one half hours for nuthin’?
Long story short: nope.
This being opera, and this being Tosca, my afternoon consisted of passion and lust and love and religion and heros and villains and innocence and jadedness and plotting and lying and death. No wonder I was exhausted at the end of it!
You know that vague perception about opera that “everybody dies at the end”? While that isn’t true about all operas, it might be true about Tosca, although I’m not saying either way because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
It’s about who, again?
So there’s Tosca, a lady singer who is very pure and very passionate and very in love with her guy Cavaradossi, a very talented painter of big paintings who is equally passionately in love with her. Of course there is the other guy, Scarpia, the baddy who lusts after Tosca in a very bad and lustful way.
I cannot knowledgeably comment on what the booing was about, but I will say that I thought the gold platform lace up shoes of the, uh, ladies (cough cough), in the second act were particularly jarring.
What was not needed at all was that, uh, simulated, uh, act, that one of those ladies, uh, performed, on Scarpia the bad guy. Yeah yeah, I get the he-doesn’t-love-Tosca-he-just-lusts-for-her thing but when you’re sitting next to a very nice 80-year old lady with whom you’ve already had a pleasant conversation, seeing, uh, that, on the screen was utterly uncomfortable for all involved.
(And aside from the uncomfortableness of it, it was not-even-for-one-second believable because nobody can sing when they are having that done to them.)
If I say any more you’ll know too much about it. Better to just go to the opera (or the movie of the opera) and find out yourself.
Oh, that’s why Opera is so expensive
Most operas seem to be in three acts, and most operas have an intermission between each act. The Met: Live in HD series does not use those intermissions as merely a pee break. Live interviews with the singers as they come off stage, a glimpse of the enormous and coordinated set changes, you get to see behind the scenes in these interviews. It’s hard not to be smug: I only paid $22 for my seat at this opera and I got to see EVERYTHING.
The best part was the interview with Karita Mattila, who played Tosca. You find out that she is a blond-haired, blue-eyed Finn wearing a dark wig and brown contacts, and she tells the interviewer Susan Graham (a fabo opera singer in her own right) that the part comes from her “pubic bone.”
Those divas, always with the intensity!