Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Night at the Opera

I think this title has already been used (oh look: per the googles, it has, by the band Queen for their third album), but in this case it's literal rather than metaphorical. Because I actually did spend a night at the opera. Specifically, I saw Puccini's "Trittico" at the Teatro Colon here in Bs As this past Friday eve.

This transpired because a friend/colleague asked me some weeks ago if I'd like to go to the opera while in Buenos Aires, and without thinking too carefully, I said yes. The non-thinking here is key, because when this convo occurred, I was doing that thing of where you respond to a suggestion that sounds basically good with an affirmative answer, not pausing to think about whether the basically good is worth various future-discounted costs like logistical annoyances, difficulties, everpresent tiredness, etc., that become very real when you're actually faced with going to the event when it rolls around.

And as the BR might be already sensing, when the opera rolled around the other night, I didn't much feel like going. I'd had another truly legendary night of terrible sleep thanks to the noise of my depto (which now includes not only the relentless oonta-oonta of club music from the various night clubs downstairs, one of which is called, I shit you not, "Sodoma", which in case you don't speak Spanish, actually does translate to "Sodom," but also the equally relentless hammering and plane-sawing of the construction project that is going on constantly during the day hours, amazingly enough on the floor directly below me, and is not deafening but does have sort of a Chinese-water-torture aspect of constant percussive annoyance to it), and the idea of getting gussied up (albeit with a skinny tie, which I was sort of excited about since it's the only kind of tie I can really stomach wearing) and hauling my ass all the way to the Colon for this Puccini biz was not sounding so appealing.

Because, you see, I do not especially like opera. Or at least, having never been to an opera, but having heard and seen bits and pieces of operas in various settings, I was pretty sure it did not much do it for me (and in case it's not clear why I accepted the invite to go to the Colon earlier, it was in the interest of trying something new that I'd never done before more than from actual intrinsic, opera-specific interest), though I was not so sure about this that I wouldn't at least want to try it out.

So we arrived at the Colon Friday eve, and it only then occurred to me that the venue itself is (or at least in this case, can be) a major draw for the opera, independently of the performance. The Teatro Colon is spectacular in a way that challenges my descriptive/narrative capacities, so I'll just say that it's a fairly eye-popping example of the Baroque style, and that sitting in the floor seats looking up at the tiered banks of box seats gave me a real sense of awe (as well as vertigo, in addition to nausea, which is fairly standard fare for DF, as the Broad R. undoubtedly knows). Would that I'd brought my iPad (NB: did not b/c thought it would be bad opera etiquette for some reason), so I have just the one pix to let do the talking for me.

The opera itself began, and as the name suggests, it's in three parts. The first was a real downer: The story seemed to have political overtones, but was mainly about an extramarital affair, and at the end the husband kills the wife's lover, which seemed like a morally satisfying outcome to me though I think we were meant to regard is as sad and bad. But there was not a catchy tune to be heard, and while the first third lasted only about 1.15hr, it felt much longer, and at the intermezzo I recall distinctly not being able to imagine sitting through the second and third parts.

But I'd bought in (quite literally, and not at all cheaply), and so hauled my ass to the fifth row (!) for the second part (not "act," since the three parts were conceptually and narratively separate). This second section, which I recall being called Gianni Schicci, was not nearly as dark as its predecessor, and in fact was comic (though not ha-ha funny, though many people did laugh, albeit in that "I feel obligated to laugh at this high-minded material" way that people often do in plays and such), and I found myself not finding the experience terribly dull and unpleasant as I had the first part. I was not having the time of my life, but was basically entertained.

And then, do you know what happened? A miracle!

But wait. This miracle requires a bit in the way of backstory. So you see, around about the early nineties, when I was a hellaciously awkward nerd (insert "so what's changed?" quip here), rather than doing normal teen things like having friends and going to sock hops, I stayed in and did things like reading and watching movies. And not your "Jurassic Park" level fare, but mildly better fare that salved the unwarranted sense of intellectual superiority on which my fragile teen ego was entirely and precariously constructed.

Among these films was "A Room With a View," which led to a chaste infatuation with a then-young Helena Bonham Carter, and also caused me to be very fond of the beautiful female-vocals-driven song that is sung during the opening credits. I recall being affected enough by this song during my teen years that I rewound the tape (quaint! dated!) of ARWAV numerous times in order to re-hear this song that I could not understand the words of or place in context.

So: halfway through Gianni Schicchi, I hear overtures that seem to gesture at (what I think of as) the ARWAV song, but dismiss them as coincidence or something, and then a few minutes later am utterly jaw-dropped when a very very lovely opera singer (and believe you me, not all of them merit this description) begins belting out the selfsame ARWAV song that I so loved from my youth.

It turns out that the name of this song is not, in fact, "The ARWAV Song," but "O Mio Babbino Caro," and it is a famous aria in which the daughter of Gianni Schicchi asks her father for approval and funding for the marriage to the man she so desires. The aptness of this aria never really got to me before (not having understood a whit of the lyrics or their meaning), but now I get it, since it is set in Florence (as is much of ARWAV), and mentions the Arno (highly relevant to ARWAV), and is about young intense and not approved-of love (ditto ARWAV), etc.

But I cannot stress the astonishing, and miraculous-feeling coincidence of having the only element of any opera that I actually know and recognize, and, to be honest, really love, also happen through nothing more than good fortune, to pop up halfway through the only opera I've ever seen or possibly ever will see. It would be as if the only play in baseball you found interesting was a triple play, and you only ever saw one baseball game in your life, and there was a triple play in the fifth inning.

When the very very pretty opera singer finished the aria, there was polite applause, which was nice because it was the only time people clapped in the middle of any of the performances, but it still seemed somehow inadequate. I wanted to grab my seat-neighbors and shake them and be all like, "CAN YOU FREAKING BELIEVE THIS? YEAH!", and chant "U-S-A!!!" and demand that they high-five me, and whatnot. But I did not do this ("U-S-A" chanting being not enormously popular in Porteno society generally and certainly not at the colon), and Gianni Schicchi went on, and was very entertaining.

And that was more or less the Pickett's Charge of Trittico, if you want DF's opinion. That is, GS peaked with that moment, obvs., and the denoumentey final segment of the Trittico was a very somber and melodramatic bit about a lady nun who finds that her illegit son has died, and then dies herself of quasi-suicide quite dramatically (in case you haven't seen it, and even if you have). There was much applause toward the end of each part, for each singer, and the singers often gestured interestingly, such as crossing their hands over their hearts as though overcome with emotion, or kissed their hand and slapped the floor, which I took to be some kind of reference to thanking the band (?).

We all filed out into the late late Bs As night (and I'll pause to note that the "we" were not all as well dressed as DF and compatriots, and some of whom were in jeans and t-shirt stuff, which really puts a dent into the whole "Portenos are more elegant than US folks" argument, and is also kind of an interesting iteration of atmospheric externalities, esp to those who find non-elegant garb at the opera grating and inappropriate), and unsurprisingly failed to eat at one of the two good and open nearby restaurants, and ended up having some mediocre dinner at an awful place in the Recoleta, though it was the first time I'd ever had one of those legendarily late Bonaerense dinners you hear so much about.

And that was how DF spent a night at the opera. Verdict: success! But qualifiedly so. That is, I enjoyed the experience, esp given the miraculous appearance of OMBC, hence success. This success did not convert me into anything like a real fan of opera, however. And I am certainly not going out to buy season tix to the opera anytime soon. Rather, the nature of this success lay in having checked off one more item from the life-list, and enjoyed it quite well, so now I can move onto other life goals such as being physically present in four Canadian provinces at the same time. Oh, relatively nouvelle quadpoint to the north--you will be mine!

Pic: DF and compadres scoping the Teatro Colon pre-Trittico. There is one other pic of me at the opera but since it makes it look as though I'm undergoing some kind of autistic seizure (which, to be clear, I was not, or at least do not recall), I chose not to feature it.