Monday, April 13, 2009

A night at the opera

I went to the opera last night. I'm not normally an opera-goer, of course, but the LA Opera's supposed to be quite the deal. And, since my friend E was appearing in the production, I had two free tickets. So that was cool.

I've never seen an opera before, so I had very little idea of what to expect. I know all but nothing about the opera experience, so this was a perfect opportunity to educate myself.

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting. Fat women in metal bikinis and horned Viking helmets? Strapping tenors wearing garish Poseidon costumes?

I should have known better. Sadly, I had no camera on me with which to document the scene, so you'll have to rely on my unreliable memory.

I had some vague notion that the Ring Cycle had influenced Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but I found myself more than a little surprised to see the production reverse the flow of inspiration: within minutes of the play's opening, fox-masked actors were streaming across the stage waving what were, to all appearances, light sabers. I mean honest-to-god red-and-green-colored, fluorescent-light tubes. Sadly, there were never any dramatic sword fights (only abstract representations of such), but the spirit of the climactic Darth Vader-Obi-Wan Kenobi duel permeated the rest of the show.

The costumery was similarly influenced. The two main characters, Siegmund and Sieglinde, appeared onstage in outlandish, piebald outfits, vertically bifurcated in blue-and-black makeup. One of the antagonists, Siglinde's husband and member of a clan holding a violent grudge against Siegmund, was costumed in an enormous red overcoat, while the king of the gods was frequently represented by a hunched man whose enormous floppy hat hovered over a single enormous eye swathed in bandages. The queen of the gods, meanwhile, was blessed with six-foot-long arms that dramatically waved about as stage-direction required.

All the while, a fluorescent tube slowly orbited the stage, representing the minute hand of an enormous clock that evoked the current timeline of the story (clockwise for present-day events, counter-clockwise during flashbacks). The clock was advanced by a small woman clad all in a black bodysuit, who carefully and deliberately walked in a circle around the stage for a good three hours straight.

Also, an enormous eye hovered in the top left corner of the stage. It served no apparent purpose and was never figured in the action of the play.

It was an unbelievably amazing appearance. The costume design was so utterly weird and incomprehensible and the art direction so sublimely unreal that I couldn't help but enjoy every minute of it. I don't know if this was what I should have expected or whether everybody else in the audience found the experience as strange as I did. Regardless, I'm truly happy I went, and the experience of seeing Flight Of The Valkyries performed live (it has lyrics, you know. The lyrics are about horses) was fantastic despite all of the cliche now seeped through that song. My friend E, of course, was fantastic (as were all of the performers!).

I can't imagine that I'll go to another opera for a while (note: please still offer me free tickets), no matter how much I loved it. They gave us two intermissions, yes, but despite that 5 hours of live performance is a bit much to sit through. I can only hope that if I do, I'll be just as happy with my next experience.

Oh, and I learned after the fact that Plácido Domingo played the lead role. This I was told as he walked about 10 feet away from me in a bar after the performance. That was kinda cool.

Friday, April 3, 2009


[NB: I have many posts in the works -- about travel and the opera and the like. Be patient!]

My roommate S is on UCLA's triathlon team, which strikes me as an all-around insane way to spend your spare time. He's up all hours of the day going to training sessions and spends his weekends on long road trips to participate in races and basically seems to have very little free time.

So when he asked me if I wanted to participate in the triathlon team's annual fundraiser -- the IronBruin -- I told him he was crazy and left it at that. I've taken to jogging a bit and I bike all the time, but I can't swim worth a damn. So why spend $35 on an admission fee just to embarrass myself? That's crazy talk!

So why, then, did I find myself crawling out of bed at 4:30 in the morning (on the morning Daylight Savings switched over, no less!) to head on to campus for a godawful early triathlon? I couldn't tell you. I'm still not quite sure.

But I was there, and I was committed. It was a bit of a fiasco getting everything in order -- there are a whole bunch of numbers you have to attach to your bike and body and I hadn't the slightest clue how to do so. And then after a short warmup, I had to stand in the cold (at 7:30 in the morning in only a swimsuit!) waiting for my turn to hop in the pool.

I was pleasantly pleased with my performance. After I had committed to actually running the race, I began a rigorous training program to spruce up my swimming performance (30 minutes, once a week). And it showed! In the swimming pool, I found myself consistently stuck behind slower swimmers, trying to edge my way forward -- in fact, I found myself swimming the breast stroke a few times when the pool clogged up.

Then, of course, there was the transitions. Between different sports, you have to run into a fenced off area, change into appropriate gear, and begin the next section. Between swimming and biking, this means toweling off and throwing on shoes and a shirt. Nothing too hard. This took most people 30 seconds. It took me two minutes. Not my most impressive performance.

But then, thankfully, I did well again on the biking -- well enough that I had somebody yell at me "Damn, where do you train!" as I lapped him. The only people passing me were wearing superslick aerodynamic helmets and riding bikes with only five spokes, so I didn't feel too bad about that.

Of course,that could only mean I would totally bonk out on the run. I did OK and never stopped. And I tried the strategy of picking somebody immediately in front of me and muttering (hopefully under my breath) "You're my rabbit. You're my rabbit" and trying to catch up to them (or at least keep pace). It didn't work. My rabbits all got away. Three cramps and a slow, embarrassing jog later, I strode across the finish line.

Overall, though, it went really well. It was a 400m swim, 13.5km bikeride, and 5km run and I finished in 1:27, placing a respectable 70th place (out of about 300). Pretty decent!

It's weird to think about myself as athletic. I'm still, of course, not much of an athlete. Most of my life, though, I've been particularly anti-exercise and sports, and it's only in the last couple years that I've actually managed to get any real interest in sports (or ability, for that matter). So it's really cool to have participated in a competition like this and realize how much different I am now (people who haven't seen me in years keep on telling me I'm thinner, I guess, which is something, too).

I can't imagine doing more than one of these a year -- it was fun, but I had trouble walking for a week. Still, though, I'm signing up for a swimming class this year, and damned if I don't take 35th place next year!