Thursday, January 11, 2007

Buy Me Some Bubbly and Cracker-Jacks

Who, me? What did I do this evening? Oh, I took in the opera don't you know. Oh, they're doing Donizetti's Maria Stuarda; it's not canon, darling, but still.
Here's the thing. I spent ten years training as a classical musician. A fine orchestra can make my stomach flutter something fierce. I have flat-out embarrassed myself at ballet performances, I get so fired up. I'm not some hayseed scratching my groin and spitting my tobacky sidewards, is what I'm saying. But opera, I just don't get.

Granted, I haven't been to tons. In fact, the last performance I saw was Boris Godunov in Moscow, which was eh, but I was so jazzed to be at the Bolshoi, I didn't really care. I approach my distaste with the assumption that I am failing opera, not the other way around. Surely I've just not tried hard enough. Surely an open mind remains necessary. And really, there are certain arias that, on their own, are undeniably sublime.

But I think I've put my finger on the problem, and it's that all of my critical faculties for music, theater, literature, and film, are tuned to prize masterful subtlety. The barely noticeable detail that betrays fine craftsmanship. The scalpel not the hammer, right? And opera is a bulldozer. I appreciate the technical prowess of the singers; their control, their range. I knew opera singers back in music school and I know that they work their performances down to the details as minute and fine as any poet. But it still feels like a sledgehammer to me.

Perhaps it's because these virtuoso performances have to be couched in absolute theatrical ridiculousness. Characters with stupid motivations betraying simplest common sense, villains wearing black, heroes wearing white, maidens pure of heart and true in love betrayed by....zzzzzz. Timeless music deserves a better setting than that. I'm perfectly willing to suspend some disbelief for the purpose of drama, but I'm not willing to smother it to death altogether.

Regardless, a fun and diverting evening, and I include in the entertainment my fellow patrons. Dallas, you big ridiculous hairball of a city, sometimes I love you. There was a curious proliferation of gay men wearing black leather pants in the audience; is that an opera convention or more of a Dallas thing? And Dallas women, I salute you. I know it was 58 degrees tonight but you were going to the opera and you'd be damned if you weren't wearing your furs with your diamonds. Women don't sweat, darlin', they glisten. Brava!


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