At the Opera

I used to be afraid of Opera.

I know that sounds weird. I mean, it’s not like I had nightmares about a heavy-set woman wearing a helmet with Viking horns and yellow braids chasing me down while singing “Flight of the Valkyries” in a piercing soprano (…though now that I put it that way, it does sound kind of horrifying). When I entered my PhD, despite having been a theatre person my entire life, I had never seen an Opera.

It just seemed daunting. There was so much popular entertainment baggage associated with it. So much society told me I should be if I went to an Opera: well bred, musically inclined, interested in melodrama, in possession of a fur coat and those tiny steam-punk binoculars… What happened if I found it boring? Or worse, what happened if I laughed at the ridiculousness of some big tragic moment put to song in a way that seemed in keeping with the genre tropes that my admittedly narrow-framed world view understood to be a part of the Operatic aesthetic?

Cut to one day in my first-year research methodologies course, the Professor going on some tangent about various “alternative” theatrical forms. He wound up in an Opera rut and paused when he realized that he was looking at a roomful of blank-blinking faces. “Who here has been to the Opera?” He asked.

Not a single one of us raised our hands.

He freaked out a little bit (not in a scary way, but definitely in a way which made an impression). I mean, he was kind of right. A roomful of various theatre professionals now entering their second-ish career in training to become theatrical experts and not a one of us had attended live Opera. There was something shameful about that; he knew it, and I think in our hearts we knew it. I vowed in that moment that I would make it my business to see an Opera as soon as I could.

I didn’t have to wait long. A couple months later, I was presented with tickets to La Traviata as an afternoon outing with a friend. We went. I swallowed my anxiety about what to wear, how much to read the subtitles and how much to look at the actors, and if I would have a good time, and let the music wash over me.

It was a great evening. AND I got to feel morally superior to boot since it was the same day as the Superbowl that year (…I mean really, I took in a great cultural moment and supported the arts while the rest of America grunted at their television sets…). Two years later, I review Opera on a regular basis and I’m working hard to introduce the art form into the lives of those around me.

It can be tough to work up the nerve to have a new experience. But especially when that new experience involves supporting the arts, it’s important to buck up and give it a try. Here in Boston we have all kinds of opportunities to see Opera: Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Opera Collaborative, Boston Metro Opera, and Geurilla Opera (to name a few professional companies). There’s also more “home-grown” student organizations such as the MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players, performances by New England Conservatory’s Opera Students, and performances by Opera students at the Boston Conservatory. Take a risk, take a chance; you might just (like me) discover something new and wonderful out there in the world.

The Price is Right

The tail end of my week has featured night after night of wonderful free entertainment.  Since it’s nearing midnight and I still have a paper to proofread, I’ll make this short and sweet.

Night One: Wednesday

 Well, of course I had to see the opening night of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Coriolanus.  Every year on Boston common, CSC presents a different Shakespeare.  This is the first year I’ve made it out.

Since the moment I heard that CSC had picked Coriolanus, I was intrigued to see the production.  It’s not a show performed very frequently, and there’s a reason for that.  It’s extremely difficult to execute in a way which keeps its audience, it’s a Roman show and thereby has confusing and alien politics, and it demands a great deal of dexterity from its almost-completely male cast.

There’s a great deal of violence in the show (it is, after all, about war), which also makes it difficult to execute for small companies lacking in funds to hire a fight director.  I am sorry to say that the first thing I noticed about this production was its violence (and not in a good way).  The fights looked under-rehearsed and sloppy, though this is a problem which may solve itself over the course of the run.  Stage fights require a great deal of precision in order to communicate their stories to an audience, otherwise you just wind up with awkward hugging and two guys waving “deadly” weapons at each other.  Unfortunately, in

a great shot of the CSC stage they set up every year (not from this year, but still!)

the heat of (especially a first) performance, a great deal of the work which goes into attaining this precision can be lost in a wash of adrenaline.  I truly hope that these bits get tightened up during the run, because they would greatly improve the quality of the piece.

Karen MacDonald absolutely took the stage as Volumnia (and by that I mean the entire production was hers and hers alone… perhaps giving some concession to Jacqui Parker’s Sicinius Velutus).  My goodness, that woman had us in the palm of her hand.  Powerful, overbearing, creepy, and utterly in control.  Brava, Ms. MacDonald.  Brava.

On the whole, the experience is definitely one worth having.  Especially on a lovely summer night.  Especially with good friends.  Especially with a giant spread of yummy food on your picnic blanket.  Most especially because it’s not very frequently that you see this show performed; go add it to your Shakespeare checklist while you can.

Night Two: Thursday

So here’s a question for you: have you ever been to the Opera?

Before this year, I would have been among the masses who answered “no”.

Here’s a fun facts about Opera: Opera is the only performing art with an audience whose average age in actually dropped (Opera is hip!).

Opera also ain’t what you think it is.  Oh, sure, there are the nine-hour-singing-in-German snoozers (…uh… works of artistic genius?), but really who wants to perform them much less go to see them?  The vast majority of the Opera that I’ve seen (not that I’m a connoisseur yet… still building my Opera street cred) has been hip, upbeat, and fun.

Comic Operas are some of the most fun you can have during a night in the theatre.

A production of Orpheus circa 1860 – Jupiter transforms himself into a fly to seduce Eurydice

Tonight, I attended a performance of Orpheus in the Underworld by the Boston Opera Collaborative.  A comic Opera by Offenbach, Orpheus tells the classic Greek story we all know and love… but with a twist.  It’s a comedic farce of the story complete with satyrs, sex, and rock ‘n roll (…well… at least a violin solo).

Here’s a great thing about Orpheus: you already know some of the music.  “The Infernal Galop” (II.2) is a tune familiar to any and all who have ever engaged with an iota of pop culture (hint: you probably know it as “the Can-Can”).

Here’s the great thing about the Boston Opera Collaborative: their shows are free.  BOC was founded in 2005 in an effort to create a post-graduate outlet for students of operatic arts.  As a result, the shows you will see there won’t be the meticulously polished performances you get at the Met, but they will be lively, entertaining, and completely gratis.

I can’t be more pleased with this initiative.  What a great way to introduce audiences to an art form, and simultaneously build resumes for intermediate performers.  Orpheus performs this weekend at the Strand theatre.  It’s free.  You have no excuse not to go.  Especially if you’ve never been to the Opera before.  Ticket info can be found here.