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O Fim duma Viagem

A Night at the Opera

FRANCE | Saturday, 26 September 2015 | Views [279]

My first scheduled activity on Tuesday was a harp lesson. Taking advantage of having a harp in my apartment, I was able to run through the piece one final time the morning of my lesson. So I could determine that I'd neither forgotten the piece nor gotten any blisters since the night before. (I'm slightly jealous of people who play instruments where the latter isn't a concern.)

The lesson went well. More practice with the exercises and rounding the fourth finger followed by looking at the song. I'd gotten through the first half hands together, so Madame Luce advised me on the dynamics and we moved on to the second half.

The left hand, which had been so dull in the first half, was doing interesting and strange things in the second. Like "jumping two octaves and occasionally playing up by my ear" strange. It was a slight challenge just to play them separately, and rather difficult to play them together. But, optimistically, Madame Luce gave me another piece to work on as well. Thus armed for the ensuing week, I paid her and went to class.

Integration went fine, though the professor was irritated with the class. He asked that, if people were going to come in late, could they at least carefully close the door so it didn't slam, because he was tired of hearing it every two minutes. And, of course, since everyone who slammed the door subsequently hadn't been around to hear him the first time, he needed to repeat this announcement. (Related question: why don't any doors at UPMC close quietly by themselves?) Later, someone's cell phone loudly rang, and the professor snapped "is it that much to ask for a minimum of respect in this class? Come on time and turn off your cell phones!" And then he continued teaching analysis to a quieter than normal class.

Then back home to prepare dinner and get ready for the opera. Even though Erin had told us that people in Paris went to the opera in jeans, I opted to go slightly fancier and change into a skirt. I felt neither under- nor over-dressed, which is pretty much what I was going for.

The opera we saw was Madama Butterfly at the Opera Bastille. In the quick summary I tried to give Clara before the curtain rose: man goes to Japan and buys a house with a 99-year contract, breakable every month. Thinks marriage works the same way. (It doesn't.) He marries, then leaves his wife to go back home. She waits for him and sings "Un bel di vedremo." Oh, and she has a child by hiM. Eventually the husband comes back with his new, American wife. The Japanese wife kills herself.

And, essentially, that's what happens. The opera starts out kind of slowly, (as Clara pointed out, the opening lines are literally "a door.") and the scene where she was waiting up all night for him dragged nearly as much for me as for her. (It was an instrumental interlude while Sorrow [the only name the child is ever given, since Colonel Pinkerton never returns so he can't be called joy] goes around the house in a very simple ballet.) But other parts were more emotionally intense, and sometimes even humorous, like when Cio-Cio-San asks when the robins make their nests in America.

Consul: what?

Cio-Cio-San: he told me he'd return when the robins make their nests. Here, they've already made them three times. Is it different in America?

Consul: I'm sorry, I'm not an ornithologist. I can't answer that.

The opera was sung in Italian, with supertitles in French and English. I mostly read the French, both for practice and because the French felt more authentic. (Clara confirmed it was closer to the Italian, at least the Italian she could understand. Which was basically limited to what the consul sang.)

The set was very minimalistic. As in, the set was a stage, a raised part of the stage, and a screen in the back that changed the lighting depending on whether it was day or night. The props consisted of one chair. Everything else was left to the imagination. Which was disappointing, because the last opera I'd seen had had a gorgeous set, with platforms, a giant portrait, and visible changes of scenery. I get the impression the Lyric Opera is always like that. (And by "get the impression" I mean when I made a positive comment about how the Chicago Shakespeare company, which has people seated on three sides, does with staging, like having gigantic flags torn down at the beginning of every act, or thrones literally come out of the ground, a friend told me I would love the Lyric Opera, because their sets are magnificent.) Although generally I don't hold it against a play if the set is non-existent, operas are apparently different in my mind.

I think part of it is that the actors never really interacted with anything. There were no props for them to handle, and they never touched each other. Even when they were singing lines about touching, the most they'd do was hold their hands out. It took away from the feeling that the action was actually happening.

It was also really hard to feel sorry for Colonel Pinkerton, though.

Pinkerton: if only I'd known that what I was doing was wrong.

Consul: seriously? I literally told you that the day you married. I told you "Butterfly trusts you, don't break her heart."

Pinkerton: I suddenly realise my mistake.

Consul: suddenly? How did you not notice it earlier?

Pinkerton: I can't stand this house. Too much sadness.

Consul: are you just- he left. He is leaving me, his new wife, and Cio-Cio-San's maid to explain the situation. Because that can only end well...

(Colonel Pinkerton's lines are from memory, the consul's are from imagination.)

Apart from that, though, it was good. Several of the songs were absolutely beautiful, and the ending was intense and moving. More so than the narrative or the words, the music is what moved the piece along and made it so compelling. Besides, I can now claim I've seen an Italian opera about Japanese and American characters in France. I think that's enough countries for one three-hour performance.

Tags: analysis, music, opera

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