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This was a truly enjoyable opera. Lots of slapstick and fun, lots of innuendo, beautiful sets. Really well done. My only issue with it was the length: Mom and I usually try to catch the train in the 5:00 hour (it's something like the 12s for me and the 20s for her), but we stayed an extra hour in hopes of seeing the whole opera, and it still wasn't over when we left at 5:45 (because we could not stay another hour downtown). But overall, laugh-out-loud funny. The scene with the guy under the bed, and the scene with the cabinet, were both just spot on.
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The first opera of this year's season was Turandot. Our tickets were originally for October 2, but F and I had plans to visit family in Pittsburgh that weekend, so we needed to move them to the previous weekend. Mom gave me the tickets; I put them in my neighbor Sid's mailbox, and a few days later new tickets showed up in my mailbox. The service provided by Opera Philadelphia, I'll tell ya!

When we arrived, we were happy to see a friend of my mom's. Teresa and Mom always talked about the opera, but Teresa's season tickets were usually for Friday nights; she'd recently gotten tired of all the driving late at night, so she'd moved them to Sundays. Teresa was there with her husband and daughter so we had a nice chat. And then, when we got upstairs to our seats, we discovered we were sitting right next to them! What a funny coincidence. Also they shared snacks with us.

The opera itself was not my favorite. As you sometimes find with these old operas, the singing can be great, the orchestra and the sets and costumes can be great, but the opera itself won't be great because it's just not that good an opera. In this instance, Turandot just isn't designed to be a likeable character by a long shot, and the prince who falls in love with her on sight isn't sympathetic because he's an idiot. His actions cause a longtime faithful servant to be killed, but he gets what he wants in the end so it's all good, right? Argh. And I had been looking forward to this one, too, I usually love Puccini despite his troubled approach to his female characters. Oh well, couldn't get past it this time. Vocally, Joyce El-Khoury was the standout as faithful Liu who gets killed.

When I got home, f wanted to hear the story of the opera, so I ended up telling it like five times. I had to really work to make Turandot into a heroine when the prince melts her cold heart. I had to throw in a wizard who made her that way, and I had to leave out all the beheadings. I left in the torture of the faithful servant, but I had the prince step in to save her. Basically I rewrote the whole story to not suck so much.

The one interesting thing is that a local Asian society had a flyer in the program (I can't find my program now) talking about the history of the opera, the troubling portrayal of Asian people and culture, the racist depictions of characters Ping and Pang, not to mention the troubling female roles - they had a lot to talk about. I was really happy to see that Opera Philadelphia is engaging in that dialogue, though, and inviting such organizations to the table in making decisions about how they're going to stage an opera like this.

Overall, though, sorry Puccini, not a fan.
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Comic opera in which Nemorino, hapless car mechanic (in this version, set in the late 1940s), falls in love with beautiful Adina, a schoolteacher who just isn't interested - until Nemorino gets a love potion from shady Dr. Dulcamara, and, confident in the potion's power, starts acting confident for once. Adina thinks he's finally gotten over her and starts realizing that maybe she should have given him a chance, but she's annoyed enough that she decides to accept the marriage proposal of conceited Sargeant Belcore instead. Antics ensue.

The set, as usual, was really nice, a perfect Italian village, and was flexible enough to appear as an ordinary village by day, wedding locale by evening. There was one moment when we could see sunflowers in the fields and it was lovely. The best part of this one, though, was the physical comedy and the way the corps gets to ham it up. My friend Val was in this production, and she got to fling herself at Nemorino in one scene where all the village women are trying to tear his clothes off.

I didn't really care about Nemorino all that much, to be honest, but then I checked the program and scrolled through my past opera posts and discovered that he played the title role in Don Carlo, where I also didn't find him compelling! Sorry, Dimitri Pittas, you're just not a romantic hero for me.
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This opera was a truly impressive new work, an adaptation of the book (which I've never read, which was also adapted into an award-winning film that I haven't seen). The last time I saw a new opera it was Oscar, which sadly was dreadful, and I feared the worst here, but luckily my fears were for naught.

First of all the sets were amazing. It looked like a whole lot of wooden beams fell over onto the stage, which was both adaptable to whatever the cast was doing (building a fence, walking on a bridge, hiding in the forest) and also evocative of the utter ruin and destruction of the Civil War. Lighting was also great - when people were supposed to be walking in the forest in the snow, the lighting really made it look like that. My opera company insider had hinted that the lighting might be tough, that this director often underlights his shows, but in this instance it was very well done.

I was familiar with the basic story going into the show but was impressed by the interpretation. The music was strong, not just orchestrally but also with interesting vocal themes (what I disliked most about Oscar). There were several lead characters, enabling the composer to weave together multiple stories that told a larger tale about the Civil War as a whole. And vocally, the cast was just excellent.

In opera-going drama news, I did get yelled at by another guest for checking my phone, which I did only briefly and while holding it to my chest to minimize the light pollution. I only did so because (1) the show was obviously running long, (2) I was supposed to go meet my mother-in-law at the bus station immediately after the show, and (3) my husband was picking us both up with my feverish child in the car; with all these elements in play, I was trying to assess whether I needed to leave early. Getting yelled at put me in a foul mood as I ran to the bus station, which resulted in me snapping at F when I arrived five minutes late - as if it were his fault - but at least I did get to stay until the end.
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I was pretty sure we've seen this one before (and we did, back in 2010), but Mom didn't remember it. It's Verdi, and it was pretty lovely. The lead, Violetta, was played by Lisette Oropesa, and she was fantastic as the courtesan who is driven away from her liver by his father and then dies dramatically of tuberculosis. Alek Shrader and Stephen Powell, playing Alfredo the lover and his dad, respectively, were also excellent.

Sets this time had a sort of paneled wall theme. They did a lot with color and light: Violetta was in royal blue in the first act (the party scene) standing out against the other characters in softer hues in the same palette. Second act, when Violetta pretends to return to her courtesan lifestyle, she's in red against a red palette; third act, when she's dying, is all whites and greys and pure light. They would set up a moment and then pause the scene and dim the lights, with a spot on Violetta, for a really dramatic photographic moment. Effective.

In terms of Mom and me, there's not a big story for this one except that she made me keep checking the Eagles score on my phone at intermissions. Also, f did not take a nap, so I got some unhappy texts from F at the intermissions too.
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Last week Mom and I went to the opera. It was very eventful. Most importantly, April 26 was Free Soft Pretzel Day, so we each got a free soft pretzel on the way to the theater. Huzzah!

Don Carlo is about the son of the king of Spain, who meets his betrothed Elisabeth and falls in love, so good news, right? No, Carlo's dad decides that it'd be better politically for the king to marry Elisabeth himself, so Carlo has to watch his dad marry the girl he loves. Carlo's best friend Rodrigo encourages him to go to Flanders, which is owned by Spain and where people are being persecuted; Rodrigo argues that Carlo can set things right there and put some space between the gross royal love triangle. But things inevitably go wrong, the Carlo/Elisabeth love story is betrayed to King Philip (when they didn't even do anything besides mope at each other), Carlo is imprisoned and escapes, Rodrigo is killed, and Carlo takes too long saying goodbye to Elisabeth before running off to Flanders and gets caught and dies. (Which is pretty implausible - the assassin who killed Rodrigo probably would have overheard the time/place of the Elisabeth meetup, so why wouldn't they have been waiting for Carlo there?)

This is sort of emblematic of what I didn't love about the show itself: nobody does anything that makes any sense or that any reasonable person would do under the circumstances. At one point I leaned over to my mom and whispered, "This doesn't take place in the Spanish court, it's the court of mentally deranged people!" But then we read in the program that Verdi was creating the work specifically for the Paris Opera in the 1860s, when "long productions with melodramatic plots, lavish stage sets, action-packed crowd scenes, and a mandatory ballet" was what the audience wanted, so it makes sense that Verdi did it up. The original Don Carlo was "a five-act opera of over four hours, complete with ballet, a parade, and the spectacle of heretics being burned to death" but "he had to make cuts because the last train from Paris to its suburbs would have left by the final curtain". Mom and I strongly sympathize with that problem, since every single time we go to the opera we struggle with either leaving early to catch the 5:10 train (being in time for dinner at home) or staying to the end of the show and sitting around to wait for the 6:10 train (missing dinner at home and frustrating one's spouse who has been at home with one's child all day - oh wait that part is just my problem). For Don Carlo, Mom and I knew in advance that it was a long one, so we just planned on the 6:10 train right from the get-go.

The show began with an announcement that Michelle DeYoung, who was playing the role of Princess Eboli (Elisabeth's lady in waiting), was feeling unwell; she had graciously consented to walk the part but it would be voiced by someone else. Mom and I had never heard of such a thing happening before. How they did it was actually really cool: DeYoung appeared on the stage in costume, moving through the part as Princess Eboli, but another singer stood at the edge of the stage by the curtain and did all the singing. Both of them actually did a fantastic job - the vocals were tremendous and the acting was really evocative. Later, I talked to my opera "source", my neighbor Sid who both sings in the chorus and works full-time in the development office, and he reported that DeYoung had been struggling with bronchitis all week and had really tried to conquer it before the opening, but no dice. The other singer had recently performed this role in Don Carlo in New York - the five-act version in French, so obviously it was no problem for her to come do the four-act version in Italian, no big. Under these circumstances their performances were even more impressive.

And then, at intermission, there was an announcement that Eric Owens, who was playing King Philip, was feeling unwell! Owens went on with the show anyway but wanted to disclose that he wouldn't be singing at full voice. Well, I would not have noticed, considering the performance he turned in. Sid reports that Owens made the call to disclose the illness because the second half includes King Philip's major parts, including an aria of his own and a big duet with the Grand Inquisitor (the true villain of the whole thing), but I thought he rocked both of them. He managed to turn in a really nuanced performance in which you sympathized with Philip (even though he gave the order to EXECUTE his SON and seemed more upset about the corresponding order to execute Rodrigo). The only part where he fell short for me was in a big crowd scene where Philip is kind of shouting orders; I would imagine that at full voice he'd be really commanding here, but he blended into the background a bit. But I genuinely wouldn't have noticed this if I hadn't already known that he wasn't well; I would have just thought it was a crowd scene.

Overall, my favorite moments were in the second half: Rodrigo's death scene was just so powerfully done, Troy Cook just did an amazing job. And I really liked all of Eboli's parts in the second half as well, the character really came together (despite being played and voiced by two different people). Carlo and Elisabeth were not all that interesting to me, but there was plenty of other action to pique my interest in this opera. It won't be a favorite of mine, but I did enjoy it and I'm glad I saw it.
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Last week Mom and I went to opera! First time in a while. I was really excited for this one, too, but unfortunately it was kind of a bust.

The opera was Oscar, about the life of Oscar Wilde, which was indeed a tragedy worthy of being enshrined in operatic form. Wilde fell in love with a young man when he was middle-aged and married, and he got drawn into a series of legal battles ending with Wilde being convicted of "gross indecency" and sentenced to two years' hard labor, from which neither he nor his literary work ever recovered. In the first act the opera centers on the moment when Wilde, released on bail the day before the verdict is to be delivered, has the opportunity to flee England for a life in exile on the continent. Wilde in his pride chooses to take what comes to him, and the second act shows Wilde suffering in prison.

The first strike against this opera is its running time: two hours and 40 minutes. It's LONG. For those keeping score, a matinee starts at 2:30, and my and my mom's trains home are on the 8s and the 16s respectively. If an opera is much longer than two hours, we start running into problems, because we want to catch our trains in the 5 o'clock hour; waiting until the 6 o'clock hour means neither of us will be home until after 7, which means dinner happens late and, in my case, F is stuck with the kiddo for an extended period. So we like operas that run no longer than 2 hours 15 minutes tops, and even then we are sneaking out to run to the restroom while the cast is still doing their curtain calls.

And then while we watched the first act, we discovered why it was so long. Poor editing! The first act could have easily been cut by a quarter to a third. There was a lot of Wilde and his two friends standing around making casual small talk, and a lot of Wilde imagining his beautiful young lover waltzing around him. The imaginary lover wasn't terrible, but the small talk - there were no SONGS in this opera, it was all sung dialogue ("recitative", which I knew and had to look up the word for). Stylistically, over an hour of this was just super annoying. Also, the climactic moment of the first act is when, resting in the nursery room in a friend's home, the toys all come to life to act out the trial Wilde will experience on the morrow. We couldn't decide if this was the best moment of act 1 or just really pretentious. It was sort of both at once.

After the first act, we decided that, instead of staying for the full show, we'd cut out halfway through act 2 to catch our 5 o'clock trains, so I didn't see the full second act. However, from what I saw, the second act was better than the first, simply because there were more characters: the cruel governor of the jail, the guards, the other inmates, etc. Giving Wilde's character others to interact with was helpful. But it still wasn't worth staying for the whole thing.

The sets, as always, were fantastic - they really got the prison in particular and made it very cool-looking. The performer playing the handsome young lover was a dancer rather than a singer, and I thought they used him to good effect with the set a few times - there was one moment when he leaps onto the bars of Wilde's cell that was just great. And vocally everybody was very good, although David Daniels, the performer playing Wilde, is a countertenor with a really high voice. I'm guessing this is true to life and that Wilde himself had a high voice, but it got really grating when that voice was carrying the whole show. But I could have dealt with that had the show itself not been too long and full of itself. I really wanted to like it - my neighbor V was in the chorus! But alas no.

Oh, and it was narrated by the ghost of Walt Whitman. See, pretentious.
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Very interesting modern opera. Typically I try to go into an opera (or a ballet) I haven't seen before without reading anything about it, but in this case I would have really been helped by cracking the program and reading a synopsis in advance.

Ainadamar tells the story of the life and death of the poet and playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca, through the eyes of actress Margarita Xirgu. The opera relies on the framework of the play Mariana Pineda, written by Lorca for Xirgu to star in the title role; it took me a while to realize that Pineda wasn't a character in the opera herself and that we were actually using the play, which Xirgu continued to stage for years after Lorca's death, to slip backwards in time and explore her memories of the past. Once I figured that out, I really admired the framework of it and the repetition of the ballad about Pineda that threads throughout the opera. I also got confused about the fact that a female singer was playing Lorca - I've read some of his work, but I wasn't at all familiar with his life story, so I didn't know that that would make sense based on, according to the program, "Lorca's androgynous voice and feminine sensibilities". I spent a while wondering if it was a woman, feeling sure it wasn't, then wondering again if it was, and it really distracted me from the story.

I really liked the music, and the fact that they used flamenco dancers, and a male flamenco singer instead of a regular opera singer for the role of the man who arrested and murdered Lorca. What an amazing voice, singing so beautifully and passionately about such a horrible thing - the contrast was intense. The scene of Lorca's death was also really intense, well staged, and powerful.

One of the things about this opera that was very helpful in practical terms was the fact that the running time was 80 minutes with no intermission - we were actually able to see the entire opera, leave in a leisurely manner afterward, and not have to worry about rushing for the train. In this case, an intermission might have helped me catch up on my program reading and perhaps enjoy more of the opera, but I did eventually figure out what was going on and get up to speed for the final climactic scenes.

Of note: the text of this opera was written by David Henry Hwang, author of the play M. Butterfly, which I adored.

Overall, I recommend this opera to Heather. :)
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(I hand-wrote this entry like a month ago and just hadn't typed it up yet.)

I expected to be a lot more impressed by The Magic Flute than I was. Part of the issue, for me, may have been the staging of the production we saw: it was staged as a play-within-a-play, as if a group of guests at a 1790's garden party decided to put on a play to entertain themselves. Not having seen the opera before, I thought this was part of the original concept and I got confused about when we'd find out the real story behind the girl playing Pamina. Then, in Act II, "as the drama unfolds, the actors leave the theatre behind and continue to enact their story in an elaborate labyrinth that covers the grounds of the estate" where "all distinctions between fantasy and reality fade away" (from the Program Notes). OK, if you're going to insert a conceit into a Mozart opera, at least carry it through in a way that makes sense. It was like it was a play-within-a-play in the first act and then not at all in the second act. The program goes on to talk about the Enlightenment and Masonry symbolism. I just didn't get it. Maybe the opera company assumed that everyone's already seen this opera? I don't know. I think I would have had a better, less confusing experience of the opera if I had seen a more traditional staging.

Once I got past my confusion, I did enjoy the basic opera itself. The cast was excellent, and the sets and costumes were beautiful. I found the story to be both odd and fascinating, and I kept wondering where Mozart came up with this stuff. (By taking symbolism from the Enlightenment and the Masons, apparently.) I wish the Program Notes had included more about the opera itself rather than emphasizing its esoteric themes: I realize that this is one of Mozart's most famous and most beloved operas, but I was seeing it for the first time! I kept wondering about the story: why did Tamino's objectives change so drastically when he came to Sarastro's temple? Why was the Queen of the Night evil, and even if she was, how does that justify Sarastro stealing her daughter? We start out thinking Sarastro is evil, and then it turns out he's the good guy, but I didn't feel like there was any reason for him to be the good guy or any plot to back this up other than that he said he was. I felt like I had a lot of unanswered questions. It made me kind of mad, both at Mozart and at the Philly opera company. Not my favorite.
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Mom and I were really impressed by this modern opera. Set at the beginning of World War I, it tells the story of three groups of soldiers - German, French, and Scottish - and is sung in the characters' native languages. (Fascinating to hear opera sung in English at all, let alone Scottish-accented English.) The story is set by showing us a key character of each nationality going off to the war, and then the opera powerfully simulates the horrors of the battlefield. When the war that should have been over in six weeks stretches on for months, the characters find themselves trying to celebrate Christmas in the trenches, and the different factions are able to overcome their differences for the space of one day, allowing the soldiers to meet each other on what had been the battlefield and share their resources: chocolate and champagne from the French, Christmas trees and opera singers from the Germans, and whisky, bagpipes, and a priest from the Scottish. The forces continue the truce long enough to bury the dead, but then angry orders come from the higher-ups and the different companies are separated and sent to battle elsewhere.

Mom and I found the opera to be incredibly moving, and I even cried a few times. The only problem was that the opera didn't keep to its advertised running time - it started at 2:30 pm, and the two acts and intermission together should have been around 2 hours and 20 minutes. At 4:50 pm, though, the second act was still in full swing, and based on the synopsis in the program, wouldn't be done anytime soon. Mom and I had to leave early to catch the train, which was disappointing. We would've really liked to stay for the ending, but then we would've had to wait until after 6:00 for the next train and not get home until after 7, which wasn't an option. Sad.
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Mom and I saw this opera several weeks ago. At the time, I was a little stressed out with being back to work full-time and caring for a little baby; F was scheduled to go back to work again the next day, so I was regretting agreeing to get the opera tickets. But it turned out that Mom and I really loved this opera. It was beautifully performed. (I was also struck by how much of the musical Rent, which I'd loved in high school, was taken part and parcel from this opera.) However, the sets were the real star of this show - the opera was produced in conjunction with the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and paintings from the two museums were projected onto screens to form the scenery. The paintings were generally of the same period as the opera (set around 1890), and it really added something special to see Marcello painting not just any canvas, but a masterpiece; not just a winter backdrop, but a beautiful painting of a woods scene in winter. It was very well done, and it really enhanced the music and performance.
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On Sunday Mom and I hit our last opera of the season: Puccini's Manon Lescaut. I was surprised to find that I really, really liked it. Manon, of course, is an idiot of a character who doesn't appreciate what she's got and is really the one who screws up her own life. But the opera itself is fast-paced and full of action! So much better than the operas where some guy comes on stage and is like, "Boy I like springtime" for 20 minutes, and then three more guys come out just to say that they like springtime too, and you're like, can something happen now please? In this opera, by contrast, so much stuff happens that the description in the program looks to be in 6-point type and completely fills the page. The program notes say that Puccini based the story on a novel written in 1731, and novels do tend to be filled with action.

The singing was fantastic. Michelle Johnson was terrific as Manon, and Thiago Arancam really impressed me as Des Grieux. He just has the perfect voice for the empassioned tortured lover.

One thing we noticed was that sometimes the orchestra seemed to be drowning out the soloists, particularly in the first act. That got to be less of a problem once Manon and Des Grieux got going, but it was an issue with several of the other characters. We hadn't noticed that at the opera before.

Sets of course were lovely. There was one sort of mirrored wall that could serve to make the room bigger (during the inn courtyard party in Act 1 and in Geronte's luxurious Paris house in Act 2). It also kind of looked like a ship at dock in Act 3, and in Act 4, it just reflected back the desolation that our heroes found themselves in. I sort of liked how mangled destroyed versions of the furniture from Act 2 was cast about in Act 4, symbolizing how things have changed for Manon, but on the other hand the sets hadn't been symbolic at all up to that point, they'd been mostly realistic, so part of me was wondering what that broken gilded cabinet was doing in the middle of the wilderness. But overall, set success.

Reading the program notes, I saw that Puccini composed not only Manon Lescaut, but also Madama Butterfly and Tosca, two of my other absolute favorites. I'm thinking that I now have a favorite opera composer! This makes me even more excited about next season, because next season opens with La Bohème, one of Puccini's greatest hits.
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A few weeks ago Mom and I went to our first opera of 2012, Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. It was a rather silly opera, but a lot of fun to watch. Rather than setting it in Mozart's time or earlier, the director set the opera during World War I, making Konstanze a spy and Belmonte her lover a Spanish pilot. They used old movie footage projected on a screen behind the singers to further set the scene. I really liked the flair and feel of the opera, but storywise, the framework didn't fit all that well to me with Mozart's original - if Konstanze was really a spy, she'd be rescuing herself instead of waiting for Belmonte, and she wouldn't even be considering Selim as a suitor, since he'd kidnapped her during wartime. Also, if Belmonte was a pilot who flew into Istanbul to rescue her, then what happened to his plane when they escaped on the boat at the end? This questions bugged me for much of the first act, until I realized, dude, it's Mozart, just shut up and enjoy it. And I did, and it was funny and fun. The singing was excellent as always, and the costumes were pretty cool, especially Konstanze's and Blonde's seraglio outfits. I also really appreciated the sets - sometimes the opera company goes above and beyond on set design, which always looks really cool but leads to long intermissions while they rearrange things. This set was very simple and understated, but flexible enough to suit the action. Overall, this one won't be a favorite for me, but I really enjoyed it.
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On Sunday Mom and I went to our first opera of the 2011-2012 season. Carmen was a lot of fun. She's a fiery gypsy, and all the men in town are in love with her. After she wounds a chick in a knife fight, she seduces the army corporal who was ordered to take her to prison; he falls in love with her and sets her free, losing his rank in the army and going to prison himself in her stead. Upon his release, he seeks Carmen out and ends up going with her and a bunch of other gypsies on a smuggling mission. Alas, the smugglers' hidden camp in the mountain wilderness is apparently really easy to find: the soldier's hometown sweetheart, who still loves him, seeks him out to tell him his mother is dying, and the bullfighter whom Carmen can't stop thinking about also arrives, complete in bullfighter costume (for a hike in the mountains?), singing cheerfully about how happy he is to be a toreador (seriously, his song echoes over the hillside as he leaves, causing the entire audience to giggle). The soldier leaves with the nice girl, but swears to Carmen that he'll be back and they'll be together. The last scene happens at the bullfight, where Carmen proclaims her love for the handsome but not very bright toreador, and the soldier kills her to death.

I'm starting to get a little tired of operas about childish cruel people, but I guess an opera about kind, peaceful, mature adults wouldn't be very interesting? Carmen totally got what she deserved for her flirtatious assholery. Plus she's reading the Tarot cards throughout the opera, so she knows she's going to die, and when the time comes, she's practically insistent on it. The soldier's like, "Come away with me," and she's like, "No! Kill me if you must!" Dude didn't say anything about killing, lady, he's still thinking with his pants - you put that whole killing idea in his head. Also, the way the set in that last scene was designed, she so could've gotten away from him if she'd just gone to the right instead of trying to sneak around him to the left (other people had been coming and going to the right earlier in the act, so it's not like there was an invisible wall over there). The other thing that bothered me is that there's no mention in the last scene of the soldier's mother or the girl next door, when a good amount of time is spent in Act I setting up his genuine devotion to dear ol' Mom, who apparently died and he's too obsessed with Carmen to even grieve. So I definitely found the plot a little lacking.

The singing and the music, however, were terrific. I particularly enjoyed David Pomeroy's performance as Don Jose, the moron corporal. Rinat Shaham brought just the right amount of sass and sex appeal as Carmen, and Ailyn Perez was really likeable as the too-perfect too-nice Micaela. The music was fantastic - I hadn't realized how familiar all of these pieces are and how often they're used in pop culture. Set design, as per usual, was excellent, with the same basic set layout acting as a public square in Seville outside the cigar factory, the inside of a seedy inn, a supposedly deserted place in the mountains, and a bullfighting ring.
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Tosca may just be our favorite opera that we've seen.

First of all, I had to switch our tickets from May 8 to May 1--I did this about a month ago. Mom gave me the tickets and I went into the opera office. The people were really nice. We weren't able to get our same seats, but the seats we got were decent. It was a painless transaction!

And I'm so glad that I switched the tickets rather than just telling Mom to go with a friend. We really, really liked Tosca. The singing was amazing, and the characters were interesting and well performed. Adina Nitescu as Tosca was wonderful. We also really appreciated Boris Statsenko as Scarpia. He did a great job of being incredibly slimy.

The sets were amazing, as usual lately. The downside of the impressive sets is that they took a really long time to change. Intermissions were 25+ minutes long, and with two intermissions, the audience got restless. However, as soon as the curtain opened, everyone was awed into silence by the beautiful set.

I loved the final moment of the opera (which, no one should be surprised to know, was a dramatic death). Really beautiful and gutsy moment.

Best part: even though it started almost 15 minutes late, the whole opera was done by 5:35, enabling us to catch our trains home without leaving before the performance was over! We got to stay and applaud, and actually exited the theater after the house lights were up again. Yay!

(Synopsis for future reference at Wikipedia--this is the one where Tosca is a famous singer and her lover is Caravadossi the painter. Caravadossi tries to help escaped political prisoner Angelotti, but the evil police chief Scarpia plays on Tosca's jealousy to get her to reveal Angelotti's hiding place. Scarpia of course is a total lout, and everyone dies at the end, but Tosca has some guts.)
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Mom and I had a great time at the opera today. Romeo & Juliet itself wasn't spectacular, mostly because of the plot--it's not my favorite Shakespeare anyway, and in operatic form the plot seemed even more contrived and implausible. And any time a problem comes up and your best advisor's first thought is, "I know, let's fake your death!" it's really time to find a new friar.

But the singing was pretty great. The sets and costumes were also interesting: the conceit was that the story is taking place in the fashion industry, with Montague and Capulet as warring fashion design houses. Juliet is not just Capulet's daughter, but also his top model and the face of the Capulet industry; Tybalt isn't just an ambitious jerk, he's trying to help his family's interests by marrying his cousin off to Paris, editor of a leading fashion magazine. The masked ball at the Capulet house in the first act becomes an elite fashion show, and Romeo and his boys sneak in to spy on the competition. When Juliet fakes her death, the fashion paparazzi are there, and so the photos end up all over the news, which is how Romeo finds out. Clever. There were "mannequins" in the background who would occasionally move when you weren't looking, which added a neat element to the set design.

The fashion thing was an interesting spin, which led to interesting costume and set design choices. They recruited young fashion designers from local design schools, who each designed a fancy dress for the Capulet collection, and used local models to show the dresses in the first act. The designs were mostly really cool and all brightly colored, and the opera singers were all wearing either tuxes or white/beige to make the fashions pop even more. The downside of that was that the models left after the party and the rest of the opera continued to be beige.

Sets were interesting. The main set piece was a giant staircase that they moved around and used in different ways: in the first act it was part of the runway; second act, it was turned around and became Juliet's balcony; third act, it swiveled around and the back of it was curved with a door to create Friar Lawrence's cell. The novelty of the staircase wore off eventually, around when they had to use it for Juliet's bedroom and laid a piece of silk down the stairs to represent a bed. All I could think about was that in this fancy rich household Juliet has to sleep in a stairwell. Probably not particularly comfortable for the actors either.

The sets didn't seem to be ideally designed for the scene changes, either. There were two 15-minute intermissions, and multiple times when the curtain was dropped for a "pause" so they could change the set. This made the show seem to go on forever. I was wishing they'd designed the staircase to be a little more maneuverable so that they could change the set more fluidly, without dropping the curtain. It would have helped with the length of the performance, too.

Mom and I were worried about catching our train, which always seems to be a problem at the opera. The ballet started at 2 and didn't run as long; the opera starts at 2:30 and we're always worried about leaving in time to catch our 6:10/6:20 trains. Today Mom wanted to make sure we'd have enough time to hit the bathroom, so when Romeo was dying, we got up to leave, figuring that, it's opera, his death could take a good 20 minutes and then SHE still has to die. When we left the bathroom, we peeked back in and Juliet had just dropped back onto the stone and the curtain was going down, so that was unfortunate--it only took 'em five minutes, we really could have stayed to see them both die. I don't know if there was another scene after that or not (where the dad and the friar discover the bodies and everyone is sad and the families reconcile) because we high-tailed it for the stairs in order to beat the crowd.

Next opera is Tosca in May. Because of when F's sister's wedding falls in May, I need to see if we can switch our opera tickets from May 8 to May 1. We asked at the desk when we were there today, and nobody seemed to think it'd be a problem, but we didn't have the May tickets with us so we couldn't do it today. Apparently they have their subscription office right near the Academy, though, so I should be able to do it on my lunch break one day next week.

Next season they're doing Carmen. Mom and I are excited. There will also be a brand-new opera in English at the Perelman, so we may try to get tickets for that too. The Perelman operas always sell out fast, we've never been able to get in there.
supercheesegirl: (stars and swirls)
Sunday was our first opera of the season: Verdi's Otello. Now, I will admit that I have never seen or read Shakespeare's Othello, so maybe I'm missing something. However, I kind of feel like an opera should tell me a satisfying story regardless of whether I'm familiar with the source material. This was... not our favorite opera by a longshot. The action focused on Iago, Otello, and Desdemona to the detriment of the other characters--Roderigo only showed up twice I think, and Cassio wasn't as interesting as everyone made him out to be. Desdemona just seemed like a moron--I mean, really, you mention Cassio and your husband gets a headache, you mention him again and he freaks out, you keep at it and he starts calling you a whore--come on, woman, get a clue! At one point Desdemona's like "Oh, CASSIO..." and the entire audience started to laugh. It was that ridiculous. And this is, and I quote from the program, "considered to be Verdi's greatest masterpiece"?

I need to get to bed, but overall: sets were absolutely gorgeous, singing was good, Iago was awesome (and actually reminded me of Carlos a little bit), but the writing was poor. We were not all about it.
supercheesegirl: (stars and swirls)
Mom and I saw the last opera of this season, La Traviata, on Sunday. It was really amazing. It's the story of a courtesan who falls in love and gives up her life of luxury to be with her lover, then gives him up at his family's demand, only to die friendless and in poverty. The lead, Leah Partridge, did an amazing job--her voice just soared. Mom and I were both in tears at the end when the lover, who'd been deceived, comes rushing in to the sickroom and she dies in his arms.

The sets were amazing, too--the backdrop to the entire production was a huge mirror that hung over the stage. In the first two acts, set during happy times (a party the night the lovers first meet, and in the garden of the home they share in the country for three months), the mirror reflects back the scene, making the party look larger, the garden look more lush. Act 3 takes place at a party at another courtesan's home, and the mirror opens up--the guests enter through the mirror and descend a red-carpeted staircase. The stage is lit in red and it sets the tone for the whole scene--the party's opulence, and also the red-hot anger of the lover. In the last scene, the mirror is broken and dirty, reflecting Violetta's dire straits. Overall a really striking technique.

However, the amazing sets necessitated a break after every act: after the first act, a brief pause for a few moments, and then two full intermissions after the second and third acts. Mom and I were getting really worried about catching our train. We ran out right after the last act and didn't stay to applaud.

Still, though, I'd say that this was probably our favorite opera so far (including the ones we've seen this year and also Hansel and Gretel in November 2007 and The Italian Girl in Algiers in November 2008, both of which were quite good and neither of which I seem to have posted about at the time).

We really loved the opera this season and have already purchased our tickets for next season's Academy performances: Otello, Romeo and Juliet, and Tosca. (We may also try to get tickets for The Cunning Little Vixen, which is at the Perelman Theater instead of the Academy, but it's a small venue and tickets go fast.)
supercheesegirl: (monsoon - alice)
Back in February, Mom and I went to see the second in our opera series (and I've been meaning to post it ever since). Tea: A Mirror of the Soul was like nothing either of us had ever seen before.

We loved the visible percussionists on stage, and we loved that they were playing with water and paper to make noise. That was the coolest thing--just hearing the sounds they could make with these simple materials, and how the sounds of water could have a rhythmic effect. It really set the tone for the whole opera.

As far as the story goes, I wasn't thrilled. It was okay: almost a standard love tragedy plot, and the characters weren't very complex and wouldn't communicate with each other. But the idea of tea and the tea ceremony was woven throughout the opera, which made it interesting and unique. But then in the second act, the hero and heroine fall more deeply in love, "expressing their passions through metaphors of tea" according to the playbill, which culminated in a big onstage sex scene that, without actually showing anything explicit, was intense enough to make both my mother and I feel uncomfortable to be watching it together. Seriously, and it went on for several minutes. We were kind of like, wow, that must be some good tea.

Overall, I liked this more than Mom did. Mom said it was the weirdest thing she's ever seen, although I protested that she has to have seen weirder things--I mean, I've seen a pole dancing midget stripper, and she's been around 20+ years longer than I have so she's had plenty more time to see weird things. Still, though, this was not her favorite. I thought it was interesting and different, and I really did love the water percussion, but yeah, not really my fave either.

The schedule for next year's opera season is out. I'm excited to see Otello, and also Tosca. I'd love to see the operas scheduled for the smaller Perelman Theater, but the season tickets in our price range sold out way early this year so I don't have high hopes for that. I think we'll do the three Academy shows, though.
supercheesegirl: (stars and swirls)
Way back in October (either the 11th or the 18th, but definitely a Sunday), Mom and I went to our first opera of the season, Madama Butterfly. (I've had the program sitting on my desk waiting to be posted about for weeks now.)

First of all, we both really enjoyed the performance. The costumes and sets were apparently very different from what is usually done for this opera: the sets and costumes were designed by the artist Jun Kaneko, who did a ton of research over two and a half years to create a really original and beautiful design. The whole thing just worked really beautifully, even when Butterfly was wearing a huge headdress, even with the projection screens. It was visually stunning as well as musically lovely.

On the musical level, Ermonela Jaho, the singer playing Butterfly, was just exquisite. Mom and I were both in tears by the end of the performance.

At the curtain call, each person stepped onstage to receive applause, but when the man playing Pinkerton stepped out, everyone booed (which is to be expected, as Pinkerton is a complete and total clueless shit of a character). As the audience booed, he gracefully whipped a bright red Phillies cap out of his back pocket and put it on. The boos turned to cheers. Very gracious of him, and proves he has a good sense of humor.

Overall, it was so cool to see this opera. Neither Mom nor I had seen it before, and it's such a classic. We both really enjoyed it and were really glad to have seen it.

Seeing this opera made me want to read the play M. Butterfly again. I think though that I might lend it to Mom instead. Undecided on that, though, as it's kind of a downer of a play, and with her being so busy and not feeling great, and it being the holidays, maybe she'd want something more uplifting. Then again, she's always reading books about foot binding, or the awful things that happened during WWII, so maybe she'd still enjoy it. I'll stick it in the bag to take to her tomorrow.

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