More Thoughts on Attending the Opera

I will admit right at the start that I went to the opera expecting not to enjoy it. But I was willing to be pleasantly surprised.

Here’s what I saw and heard …

The Marriage of Figaro is a ridiculous story about a valet (Figaro) who is about to marry a maid (Susanna) who serves the Countess. But the Count is, shall we say, passionate about Susanna and won’t let the marriage take place unless Susanna agrees to commit some indiscretions with him. Figaro, Susanna and the Countess determine to foil the Count’s plans by dressing various people up as various other people and arranging assignations in the garden. There are several other characters complicating the plot. If you want to read more, you can read the summary from the program. (Click to enlarge.)

If you can make any sense out of it, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Now take that ridiculous plot and put it to music. Well … sorta to music. Most of it isn’t music in the sense that it has melody or rhythm or any continuity — or at least none that I could pick out. The music is mostly just dialogue that is spoken in a sort of singing called “recitatives,” while the orchestra plays along. Think of an Elvis movie where, instead of the singing breaking out at random, ridiculous moments here and there, it continues all the way through — but in a form that you can’t sing along with.

Then, to all that, perform it in Italian, a language that the vast majority of the audience doesn’t understand.

Of course, there were subtitles on a screen above the stage. But there was much more being said on the stage than was appearing on the screen, so for minutes at a time, I had no idea what was going on.

Our seats were five rows from the back of the highest balcony, so we were, in essence, watching a performance at street level from the sixth floor. From that distance, I couldn’t see the singers mouths moving, so I often had no idea which character was “recitating.” The subtitles gave no clue. If we were closer, this probably wouldn’t have been a problem, or if the words had been in English, I probably could have figured a lot of it out from context. At times, I got the feeling I was watching a puppet show in which the voices weren’t connected to the characters on the stage.

To sum up, The Marriage of Figaro was a story I thought was stupid sung in a style that didn’t appeal to me in a language I didn’t understand in a performance that I found confusing.

One of the characters, Cherubino, was a soldier, who at two points in the opera dresses as a woman. He was very convincing at this because, in fact, the performer playing the role was a woman. She looked very unconvincing when playing Cherubino as the soldier. I thought this was odd casting.

I missed (that’s probably not the word I’m looking for) the second half of the first act because I had a coughing fit and had to leave. I wasn’t allowed back in until the first scene change. A kindly usher gave me a peppermint, and that helped.

The rows behind us were filled with students, I think from high school, who were very dressed up and must have been serving a detention. I am unable to account for their presence otherwise.

I should probably mention one other “adventure” that occurred earlier in the day. My wife and I went downtown early to eat lunch in the city. We had no particular place in mind and ended up at a flatbread sandwich shop called Cosi. The place was packed. When we first walked in, there were no tables available. We were headed back out when a couple got up. My wife sat down to save the table, and I went up to place our order.

Sally wanted a duo — half a sandwich and half a salad. I ordered a roast beef melt. The place was very noisy, and I had to repeat my order twice. I made my way down the line, but before I had gone more than a couple steps, the guy taking the orders stopped me and asked me again what I wanted. I told him a third time. He wrote “roast beef” on an order slip, attached it to a little table stand with a number and gave it to me. I got down to the end of the row where, after a short wait, a woman handed me Sally’s salad and sandwich. I told her I also had ordered a sandwich and showed her the slip. She told me that I should pay at the register, then put the table stand on my table and the sandwich would be brought out to me.

At the register, I showed the lady Sally’s order and the slip attached to the stand. She took them both and, after adding my drink order, told me the total. I thought it was surprisingly inexpensive, but didn’t give it much thought. I brought Sally her food, then realized I didn’t have the stand with the number. I went back to the register and asked for it. The cashier gave it to me, and I returned to the table.

As Sally ate, I waited. And waited. Other people were sitting down and getting their food, but my sandwich didn’t come. The guy delivering the food to the tables kept looking at my number as he walked by, but he didn’t bring me my food. Sally was almost done with her lunch. I finally decided to fight my way through the confusion and go ask what was going on. I pulled the receipt out of my pocket and looked at it. That’s when I discovered I hadn’t been charged for my sandwich. The opera was starting in half an hour, and I certainly didn’t want to be late for that. I decided to forget about it — I didn’t feel like giving them another chance to mess things up. I just wanted to leave.

Right about then, a friendly woman stopped by our table and saw my number on the stand. She asked what I was waiting for, and I told her. She said “OK,” and walked behind the counter. And then … nothing. She just started working back there and didn’t come near me again. After another 1o minutes, we left. I stopped by a crowded McDonald’s across the street from the Civic Opera and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich which I wolfed down while standing on the sidewalk outside.

My wife enjoys the opera. If any of you share her taste, let her know. She’ll be looking for someone to go with her in the future.

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