Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Musical Memories - The Opera

Just because even after 12 years I think my own writing is funny - and I am the author and editor of this blog - I am posting my Sophomore year report on the New York City Opera's performance of Daughter of the Regiment. This was inspired by my last blog on Hilary Hahn.

Now before you read this - you must know that in real life I had seen an Opera before this 1998 paper (we saw Phantom in Toronto), however since classes outside of my Chemical Engineering Major often didn't get too much of my attention - I developed techniques for these "Gen-Eds". If you are taking a class about performance art - pretend you have never seen such a thing before and that the teacher has just opened up a new world for you (then they feel like they are doing their job). That's how you get an "A" in a class you spend almost no time on.

Without further adieu...
New York City Opera: The Daughter of the Regiment

For lively arts this semester I have seen the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the play Marisol. So after a concert and a play I knew the next thing I would have to see would be an opera. Why not, after a little music, a stage show its about time I saw a singing production. Of course it was to my complete surprise that the New York City Opera was more than just singing, it was practically a concert, a play and tremendous singing all rolled up into one with a little comedy on the side.

The opera began with a sunrise over a small village. There was nobody on stage and only the orchestra to entertain us. It would be difficult not to notice the orchestra because they played for what seemed like an hour but was probably only 10 minutes without anyone taking the stage. My first thought was, “Where’s the Opera?” but the orchestra was actually very good and made the time quite pleasant. Unlike the symphony orchestra though, this orchestra was not the center of attention, and in fact I couldn’t even tell you how large it was for I could not see them. Regardless I was impressed not only with their music but with the way it enhanced the action on stage. I imagined them playing music like you would hear for Tom and Jerry or Mickey Mouse cartoons, it was music for theater not music for listening. The orchestra did a great job and made the opera much more enjoyable than I thought an opera would be.

The opera involved a lot more acting then I imagined an opera would. I mean it was by no means a play, but I guess I thought an opera was a couple of people standing around singing to one another. Of course this was not true. There were often times a huge cast of stage at once acting, running around and singing together. Some of the best scenes involved the entire regiment singing together acting out either a dinner scene or the like. I also had the stereotype that the performers would be in outlandish costumes with spears and helmets with horns. This stereotype, of course, was also not true. The costumes were actually quite normal for a play. I didn’t find them distracting in the least unlike the Viking outfits I had imagined would be used. The opera also had a plot or story and was easy to follow. I imagined people standing around telling a story about what had happened to one another in series after series of monologues. In the daughter of the regiment, the performers interacted and we saw the story take place right before us. My eyes were definitely opened to what an opera really is and how similar it is to a play.

An opera wouldn’t be an opera without singing, and the singing was great. It took some time to get used to how they sang. The entire thing was in French, but I know a little French and that wasn’t the problem. Often times in the beginning I thought maybe they were just singing nonsense words at times. Later when I got used to how they sang I could understand more of the French and follow it a lot better. I was interested to see that for those not fluent in French, and I by no means am one of those people, there was screen above the stage translating the basic idea of what they were saying. When I heard about this I thought it would be distracting, because I hate movies with subtitles. But because the opera involves so much singing I guess, not a lot is said at one time and I found it easy to follow along with the translation but not be distracted. I was still able to enjoy the stage performances and know what was going on.

Finally, the real shock, even more surprising than the fact that I enjoyed the opera, was the fact that it was funny. I never even put the words humor and opera in the same sentence before. This opera was really funny. From the dialogue to the stage jokes, like the sheets of music being thrown around, right down to the silly little houses that made everyone look like giants, the opera was laugh after laugh. I don’t know if this is typical in operas, but it definitely gave me a new vision of what an opera could be. It really is more entertainment than just some people standing around singing. The singing was great and the performers had impressive voices and dynamics, but the opera was a much more complete package of music, theater and humor.

I enjoyed the opera, and although I may still be reluctant to attend one over a baseball game, I now know that it is not only bearable to sit through, but very much enjoyable. There were so many different aspects to performance art that went into the opera that I had never thought of before until I saw the Daughter of the Regiment by the New York City Opera Company.

Re-reading this after ~12 years my favorite quote is "Where's the Opera?"


Casey said...

My fav quote is "An opera wouldn’t be an opera without singing, and the singing was great."

good one cuz! :)

Dale said...

Are you kidding me? The Overtures are the best part!