Day 31 – Space Opera

16 Oct

So last week I agreed to go to the opera with Nicole. I’m normally not into this sort of thing but one of the guys in my German class is an opera singer and he’s piqued my interest. So I figure I should check out at least one while I’m in Berlin. Plus it might make a good blog post.

So last night I’m on the U2 line on my way to the show and about 25 English-speaking people get on at Hausvogtaiplatz (this one I didn’t make up). They’re all in their fifties and dressed up like they are going to the opera. I think I can safely say that this is the noisiest I’ve ever heard it on the subway here. It’s surprising because none of them appear to be drunk.

The English are too many!

I get to the opera house about 17:30 and collect my ticket. It’s pretty cool cause we’re seated in the first row

Left my opera glasses at home

of the highest balcony. We sit down, I take of my shoes, stretch out my legs, and dig in for the next four and a half hours. At 18:00 sharp they begin. There’s no “please turn off your cellphones and pagers” or “tonight’s presentation of Der Rosenkavalier is brought to you in part by the Ottawa Citizen and Acer Computer Systems – for all your computing needs: trust Acer” – they just start the show right away.

Wait a second – the majority of you out there have probably never even seen an opera. Let me explain how it works (note the sample set of one)

  1. Opera is ALL singing – there’s no spoken dialogue
  2. There is a lot of physical movement involved – the performers are running around the stage whilst singing. It looks very complicated.
  3. It’s forbidden to use one’s computer during the performance – but they let you stay if you turn it off and promise not to use it for the remainder of the show.
  4. They have “untertitel” or subtitles so you can understand what is happening. The words are projected in white on a black screen above the stage (overtitles?). Even for native German speakers it can be difficult to understand the performers as they are singing all their lines.
  5. The whole thing is in the native language. This one is German – the singing and the subtitles, however one guy was singing in Italian for a minute or two.
  6. Operas are long. This one had three seventy-five-minute periods with two thirty-minute intermissions – just like a hockey game
  7. When it is finished it does not matter how enthusiastically you cheer for an encore, they will not perform another opera.
  8. The music is all performed live by a professional, dedicated orchestra that is situated in some sort of cave between the stage and the audience. They play continuously only stopping during the intermissions.
  9. The performers do not use microphones. They must have incredibly strong voices to be heard all the way at the back.
  10. Tickets in the nose-bleeds are 28 euros.
  11. The stadium is about the same size as the NAC.

Ok, back to the show. Der Rosenkavalier opens with an elaborate bedroom set where two of the characters are engaging in what appears to be some sort of post-coital singing ritual. One of the characters is a woman – it’s obvious from her dress, appearance, and singing voice. But the other is dressed like a man with short hair, but sings like a female opera singer. It took us a while to figure this out but this male character is being played by a woman (sorry fellas). It didn’t help that we were way at the back. So a few minutes later the obviously male lead (played by Enrico Palazzo) shows up and I’m thinking: ok, I kinda know what’s going on. Woman is having an affair with a man (or is it a woman, doesn’t matter) and then the husband / father / uncle shows up and hilarity ensues.

But then Enrico starts chasing the male character who is now disguised as a woman (confused, would we?) around the stage in an I-want-to-sex-you-up sort of way. I can’t understand what’s going on. I thought he was her husband so then why is he going after the lover of his wife? I mean, I’m way at the back and I suspect that something is wrong, so surely Enrico can see that’s it’s a dude. Or is it a chick? I don’t know.

Now I know you’re all thinking “please continue Jason” but I’m at minute fifteen of a four and a half hour play that I do not understand. So to wrap this up, here are some random thoughts about the opera

  • The floor of the stage was made from a black reflective material. It looked so cool

Love that floor. Hate my camera.

  • The sets were amazing – lots of mirrors and glass made the stage look huge.
  • At one point I counted 50 performers on stage at once. Incredible.
  • I think operas are the olde-timey version of movies – massive productions, top talent, while plays are more like TV – smaller scale, larger quantity.
  • For one to be able to sing this loudly, for this length of time, is truly remarkable.

I’m glad I went. Even thought I did not understand the story, the music was awesome. And for 28 euros, three and a half hours of live music being played by a professional orchestra is a sweet deal.

3 Responses to “Day 31 – Space Opera”

  1. Uncle Ross October 16, 2011 at 15:44 #

    You must have your Grandfather’s Opera appreciation gene.
    During the Second World War, when he was stationed in Florence, he had season tickets to the Florence Opera House. Except for when people were shooting at him (and the malaria and diphtheria), this was probably his most dangerous assignment of the war. Although he did have to eat English cooking… which can be lethal.

  2. Nina October 16, 2011 at 18:52 #

    Opera is so awesome! I went to see several when i was traveling and i understand your difficulties about getting the story. A lot of operas are sung in italian and the ones i saw in South America had spanish subtitles. So i always read about the story at the internet before i went – made it much easier to understand.

  3. Jesse October 16, 2011 at 23:17 #

    I went to the same opera in Vienna last year. Lasted til the first intermission. Good on you for holding out til the end.

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