I moved to Arizona to work for a weekly entertainment magazine, which is how I ended up seeing my first opera. And my second, and my third, and my fourth …
My attendance has waxed and waned over the years, but I’ve been regular enough that I’ve even seen some shows twice, with different casts and stagings. (Sometimes that’s not such a good thing: My first Carmen experience was so amazing, for example, that through no fault of its own the most recent show I went to was doomed to be a letdown in comparison.)
No matter what, though, it’s always fascinating to watch the performers project the lyrics—powered entirely by voice, no microphones—over the symphony and all the way up to the patrons in the balcony seats. Speaking of the audience, that’s a show in and of itself. Some women arrive in gowns and over-the-elbow opera gloves; some grand dames prefer drapey tunics and turquoise pendant necklaces. There’s always one or two older guys guiding younger women who are sporting tiny dresses and big wedding bands, and there’s always-always a tribe of young theatricals wearing their artiest, most interesting outfits. (I used to suit-up for shows, but now I tend to just wear nice pants and a nice dark sweater. The easier to blend into the background and observe.)
This weekend, we went to the opening night of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a show I was familiar with but hadn’t seen. (Glenn Close’s character in “Fatal Attraction” spends part of the movie going a little crazy while listening to the opera, which she likely believes mirrors her situation with Michael Douglas’ character.) The only aria I had heard was the beginning of “Un Bel Di Vedramo,” in which the title character expresses hope that “one beautiful day we’ll see” her American serviceman husband return soon. He does, eventually—but he has a new American wife in tow, and no interest in seeing Butterfly. Things end badly, shall we say.
Even though she’s “Madam” Butterfly, she’s only 15 when the opera starts and she marries U.S. Navy Lieutenant Pinkerton. Even though her age is likely historically accurate, it feels really skeevy today, making that lieutenant seem extra awful. I leaned over and told my friend Rob, who was attending his first opera: “She’s 15 now, which means she’ll be dead by 18.” (#Ispeakthetruth)
I love the tragic operas — Carmen, Tosca, even The Dialogues of the Carmelites, where at the end a dozen nuns climb a scaffolding during the French Revolution and the repeated THWACK of the (offstage) guillotine cuts them down, one voice at a time. I’d never heard of that show, or the AMAZING Lucia di Lammermoor, in which the title character emerges in a mad daze, soaked in blood, and belts out her final number. (The alien in “The Fifth Element” performs an arrangement of this number.) I mean, look at these Lucias below:
That is some scenery-chewing costuming right there, and I am ALL OVER IT.
Another one of my goals for 2017 is to support more local arts programs; in today’s political climate, they need all the funding and patrons they can get.