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.


  1. So, here's what puzzles me:

    Wagner's ring cycle was a big influence on Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings, and, as of now, probably all of the directors, actors, stage hands, etc. who are now alive, have probably consumed those media in some form or fashion.

    More importantly, most of them (like you) would have consumed SW and LotR first, and, in all likelihood would approach Wagner knowing that "he influenced Tolkien and George Lucas."

    So probably everyone working on the production sees it through that lens. I'd argue that it would be hard to put on a Wagner show that is "pure" of SW or LotR references, because that's the point of reference that everyone has now for that sort big, mythic story.

    Which isn't a bad thing. It's just kind of weird.

  2. Sounds like a fantastic production! As someone who has somewhat more experience with theater, I feel like I should let you know that they aren't all 5 hours long. Wagner is sort of his own genre within opera. Mozart tends to be 3-5, but other operas hover around the same length that a musical does, or a play. 2-3 hours (not counting intermission), and often operas that are longer then that are trimmed to better suit modern audiences.