By ALEXI VENICE
I got the bright idea to go to the opera one Friday night, so convinced my friend, Dana, to come with me. (She’s a season-ticket holder to the symphony, and we know “symphony people” are patient and tolerant. In addition, she’s a nurse. Need I say more?)
Dana and I usually can be found on the beach somewhere with books and wine nearby, but, this time of year, we’re stranded in the cold tundra, so we were desperate for indoor entertainment.
I’ve always felt that opera got a bad rap in America because it isn’t performed in English. Hmm. Maybe that isn’t the only reason for its unpopularity, but I was too determined to consider any other reason. It was time for opera in my life, and, once I decide I want to try something, well, I do at least half of it. (I’m not a cheater; just a slacker. Ask my coach at the CrossFit box.)
On that Friday in November, The Marriage of Figaro was playing at the Ordway in downtown St. Paul, about 90 miles away, so I picked up Dana and we were on our way. I had high hopes for the production because I love listening to opera on Pandora, love musicals, and have played my share of Mozart. Basically, up to this point in my life, I had nothing against Mozart. I even visited his home in Salzburg (with Dana and her family) so felt kind of loyal to him.
(For you hard-core opera lovers, I confess that I adore operatic music like Time to Say Goodbye by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. I defy you not to cry to that song! I also love Nella Fantasia by Amici Forever—talk about beautiful people with big voices. So, technically speaking, I may not have started this adventure as a true-blue “opera lover.”)
In a nutshell, The Marriage of Figaro, or, more accurately, MF, is positively, uncontrovertibly, hands down, the most boring musical/theatrical production I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Go ahead, call me small-minded, unsophisticated and pedestrian. The insults are worth the satisfaction of screaming from the mountain top that, “I hated MF! I don’t know for whom I feel more sorry: the talented cast who had to perform it or the multiple audiences who had to endure it.”
Make no mistake, it was a monumental test in endurance. MF’s run time is over THREE HOURS with one intermission! When was the last time you sat for three hours straight, besides on a trip in the car or on a plane? Binge-watching Weeds? Billions? Mozart in the Jungle? (All worth it. And, you can pause them to take a leak, get food and let the dogs in and out.)
During the first half of MF—90 minutes long—I honestly napped for 20 minutes, but discovered I didn’t miss much when I awoke. The set was still the same—the bedroom of the Countess—and the performers alternated between jumping on the bed and crawling under it, which must have been quite rebellious in the 1700’s. Nowadays, however, this type of scampering around the bedroom by fully clothed adults who aren’t sporting the trappings of leather bondage (see Billions) isn’t scandalous enough to make me laugh. Not even a little chuckle.
The relentless time spent in the bedroom came off like a Mexican television soap opera, and the piece was just as over-acted because it was written back in the late 1700’s. (Seriously, hasn’t popping out from a cupboard and breaking into song become a caricature of itself? The novelty wore off 200 years ago.)
The story is a relentless, sophomoric battering of silly nonsense that was designed—at the time—to illustrate how stupid the nobility acted back then. In that sense, it was a smashing success. Unfortunately, the little jokes are simplistic, slapstick humor.
The music was repetitious, too. It made “You Light Up My Life,” by Debby Boone, sound edgy and complicated. All the lines were sung not once, but several times. We knew this because the lyrics were printed in English on a screen above the stage. Did opera-goers need to hear everything a million times in the late 1700’s? Were they hearing-impaired? Dimwitted? Drunk? Why the constant repetition?
In the Twenty-First Century, performers say a line once, and we’re expected to get it and follow along. No wonder MF is so long. They easily could have lopped off an hour by not repeating everything, endlessly, endlessly, endlessly. I’m so serious, you have no idea—endlessly. (Picture someone singing that! Endlessly!)
During the fully-clothed bedroom antics, I found myself hoping that the Phantom of the Opera would drop a chandelier on the entire set of MF. We left at intermission (without a speck of guilt) and retired to the hotel bar for dessert and coffee.
Having said all of that, I now feel unfaithful to Mozart. I even wrestled with whether I should state my true opinion in this post, but I am who I am, and I can’t pretend to love MF because it might make me appear intellectual, cultured and urbane. MF was horrible, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
(As long as we’re on the topic of entertainment, I think The Wizard of Oz is stupid, too. Dorothy is an over-actor. She was a product of her times, but she’s still an over-actor. Yes, I’m an American—even a patriotic one—who hates The Wizard of Oz. Cover our mouths with our hands–sacrilege, right?! Someone needs to kill those fucking monkeys, who were responsible for at least a year’s worth of night terrors in my youth. Moreover, the network tried to pass it off as a Christmas movie for many years. What does it have to do with Christmas? Burl Ives narrating Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas movie, not The Wizard of Oz.)
Thankfully, when December was ushered in with a snowstorm, Dana came in clutch with tickets to Phantom of the Opera—one month after we attended MF. (Symphony people not only have excellent taste but are also well-connected.)
There’s no comparison between MF and Phantom. Phantom is dark, edgy, engaging, and boasts an imaginative set that has the “wow factor.” The music is so dissonant and minor that it adds a layer of tension to the performance during turmoil then complements the soaring soprano when she flies. She hit her high notes with the precision of a hummingbird spearing a pistil in a flower. Her voice was so delicate and sweet that we feared it would break if we breathed, keeping us on the edge of our collective seats.
Phantom also delighted me because it contains a few opera scenes within it—thus the title—and I swear they were spoofing MF. Score one for Andrew Lloyd Webber for parodying the idiotic bedroom scene, complete with the actor singing from the armoire—whoa, big surprise—while putting on a real show. Bravo.
One of the lines by the Phantom is, “Remember, there are worse things than a shattered chandelier.” I couldn’t agree more. There is MF, and it was worse than a shattered chandelier.
(I’m sorry, Dana, for ruining what otherwise would have been a relaxing Friday night in November if we’d just gone to dinner and not to MF. We each could’ve been home by 8 pm, our laptops open, and a Netflix or Amazon movie on the screen. Getting primed for Season Four of Mozart in the Jungle in 2018!)
With our husbands, enjoying Phantom.
The trip to Salzburg was still money well spent, however, because I do adore The Sound of Music, and we visited the fountain at Mirabell Palace, pretending to be Maria and the von Trapp children. (How American is that?!)
(To know me, and to read my posts, is to know the honest truth, whether I’m serious or not. Truth, irony and sarcasm comprise my balanced state of mindfulness. For example, I designed an entire workout on a yoga mat with a kettle bell, planking, and straps. It focuses on the art of misleading oneself. The accompanying music is contemporary metal-head death growls with operatic overtones. Admit it, you want to do this workout with me, don’t you?)
If I don’t talk to you before the holidays, I wish you and your families the best. See you in the New Year, when I release of my next novel, Stabscotch, The San Francisco Mystery Series, Book 3.