Friday, March 07, 2014

Opera! What's that all about?

I've always considered myself  to be a pretty open-minded sort of fellow, unwilling to judge without evidence or experience, always happy to try and understand another's point of view, preference, perspective and passion. That's what I've always considered myself to be despite all the evidence to the contrary. 

But I'm pretty sure I'm not a cultural philistine, I enjoy some art, I love a nice sculpture, I've dabbled with painting and music, I read voraciously, I'm a big cinema fan, but, If I'm honest, and I usually am, I've always had a bit of a downer on pretty much all things theatrical.
 I find actors on stage to be mostly shouty, wavy, overblown and self-indulgent which makes a theatrical evening with Mrs Stuffy, who loves a drama, an exercise in ill-concealed self-sacrifice (for me) and gritted teeth (her). But I've never seen a real live opera, not sure why, like maturity it's something that just hasn't happened for me. 

Until last night, (opera, not maturity).

Along with the lovely Sophie her ladyship and I whizzed up to the Albert Hall to experience Puccini's La Boheme, in the round. Curiously I have seen a few performance of operas on film, and Madame Butterfly (by the same dead bloke), once seen as a school trip, made, I recall, a real impression. 
So I was prepared to be impressed, once more. 

I'll start with the positives, the setting is great, I love the Albert Hall, the set was very clever, delivering a garret, a restaurant and a railway station, atmospherically and entertainingly. The scene in the restaurant was excellent theatre, dancing, roller-skating waiters, acrobatics, clowning and tomfoolery, great costumes, excellent choreography and some fine performances from a tremendously varied but well-cast troupe of bit players.
As an aside, surely everyone loves a roller-skating waiter? I'm not sure why they're not mandatory in all eateries.

So what's not to like? Well it sounds silly when I write it but it's the singing, technically impressive voices, both male and female but I found that the theatricality of the delivery, the sheer power of the voices, the focus on the delivery of the song failed to involve or interest me in the story, I just didn't care. 

On the subject of caring, to the audience. There is a type of person who feels the need to demonstrate that either they know the opera backward or that they speak perfect Italian who telegraph each 'amusing bit' with a knowing guffaw, preemptive applause or 'better than thou' chuckle. Stop it you pretentious twits. No-one cares. 

My enjoyment was also somewhat marred by the presence immediately in front of us of a chap who arrived pretty drunk and continued to get drunker throughout the evening. 
Mrs Stuffy seemed surprised (and relieved) that this obnoxious gentleman made it through the performance un-smacked but I was focussed on understanding and appreciating the experience and had a hunch that I too might have enjoyed it a little more if mellowed by a glass or several. 

Would I go to another opera? This wasn't an evening where one came away humming the songs, they were, to my discerning ear, instantly forgettable. Maybe I'd enjoy something lighter where I already love the music, Porgy and Bess, Carmen, Threepenny Opera but it does seem a very, very, silly way to tell a story, delivering "I'm going to the shops" dialogue in voices that could silence a stadium. 

Best line overheard 'I didn't realise it was all singing!"

And incidentally, if I'm ever dying of TB get me some proper medical care, not a nice warm muff for my tiny frozen hands, bad medical guidance from Puccini there. 

Adieu and thank you

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