Sunday, February 02, 2014

On Opera, Football, and Saying F It and Watching Netflix

In Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, Mario Cavaradossi explains to his friend, the escaped political prisoner Cesare Angelotti, that he has not told his girlfriend about hiding the prisoner because Tosca is devout, and keeps nothing back from the priest who hears her confession.

Fair enough. Tosca is deeply religious and has a trusting nature. She believes in the sanctity of the confessional. Her lover, Cavaradossi (who incidentally is easily the least interesting character in the opera and needs all the help he can get) tells us with this observation that he (1) accepts and loves Tosca's innocence, and (2) has a much deeper and more realistic understanding of the political situation in Napoleon-era Rome.

This ties in perfectly with the last act. Think about it!

So, when the Austin Lyric Opera decides to translate this line on the supertitles as "Tosca is a wonderful woman, but she can't keep a secret," they malign Tosca's character, refrain from telling us a key background/foreshadowing plot element, and deprive Cavaradossi of what little he's got going for him.

I guess that's the most concrete quibble I had with their production. The singing was quite good; the timing of the stage direction just didn't work - but most of my other objections would amount to artistic differences, and as long as I'm merely a member of the audience I probably just need to suck those up.

Except for the new trend - I don't know if this is ALO, or more probably just the Long Center's policy - of actually allowing food and beverage IN THE HOUSE DURING THE PERFORMANCE.

I mean, drinks would be one thing. They don't make noise, although one operagoer noisily kicked over an empty plastic cup while trying to make a discreet restroom exit. But plastic trays of crackers, cheese, and grapes? Cellulose bags of cookies? These things are loud!

Likewise, you can't blame ALO for the fact that audiences add stage-whispered commentary to the action ("YES!" hissed the woman behind me as Tosca snatched a knife from the floor - at the wrong time; I'll get into that in a bit) and are woefully ignorant of the proper use of "Bravo," "Brava," "Bravi," and "Brave" (that last pretty much never comes up except at performances of Suor Angelica).

They also dress abysmally. "Riff-raff!" exclaimed my boss, as I was trying to explain to him all my problems with the production. But, seriously. My parents took me to the opera frequently when I was a very little girl. Women wore long gowns, and men wore evening clothes. There was enough fur to re-introduce robust mink populations to the wild. And for Christ's sake you chugged the remnants of your wine in the lobby when the lights dimmed.

These days, jeans and Uggs apparently qualify as formal wear, as long as you pair them with a sparkly sweater.

And, finally, the timing issues: some appeared deliberate, as when Tosca picked up the knife before agreeing to give herself to Scarpia, which makes a significant difference. Having her make a few practice feints in the air as he's writing out the safe-passage just sells out a dark and tense scene for comic effect. And in fact there were far too many serious elements of the story played broadly for laughs in this production. Tosca's final stand before throwing herself off the Palazzo Farnese was slow, stiff, and awkward, though not intentionally played that way. The whole performance felt sluggish and poorly timed.

So, naturally, the audience gave it a standing ovation (which is now apparently the bare minimum expression of not completely loathing something) and then hastened out to their cars without a second curtain call. Do we need to give opera-going lessons here?

On a probably unrelated note, the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl (or superb owl) tonight, and I was pleased, inasmuch as I found Seattle to be a highly agreeable city on my recent visit. Mind you, I've been to Boulder as well, and it's nothing to sneeze at. So I wouldn't have been in the least upset if the Broncos had won either, especially since Seattle's color scheme is dreadful; really, navy and lime green? Really?!

I tried drinking beer, but you can only watch so much football. We Netflixed Portlandia to pass the time between commercials. It's similar to Seattle.

But you have to hand it to East Rutherford, New Jersey. They got an actual opera singer to do the National Anthem. Bravi, Seahawks! I hope to tour Italy one day and maybe get my butt grabbed as much as Russell Wilson did tonight.

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