A night at the bore pit

(Or whatever the rhyming slang is for opera this week)

As I may have mentioned once or twice already, I went to the opera for the Very First Time last week.

Ive been to the theatre approximately 5 BILLION times (or so), but have never, ever been to the opera. I know, I know, my bad.

I admit, its partly because I have a slight aversion to it, as a person who has always been extremely involved and in love with theatre, and therefore generally not keen on the sucking of arts funding by an art form which seems to have essentially ceased its popular development about a century ago and has since become – or has always been – a select club for those rich and self-congratulationary enough to foster the ahem, stopitanna
and also the opportunity of going has never really presented itself.

So when the opportunity DID present itself, I went.

And my god, it was beautifully sung. It was stunningly presented. Covent Garden Opera House itself is a breathtaking place. I never got bored during the whole thing, Im really glad I went, and, at the end of the day, I didnt like it. Sorry opera people. Feel free to start writing your point by point rebuttals now.

In the meantime, here is an open post to whoever decides to put on these same operas over and over again for, overwhelmingly, the same audiences, who go not to experience the new but simply to compare with the last time they saw it, with My tips, which I am offering Free Of Charge to the opera world, for how they can improve the experience of people who might not otherwise like opera. Like me.

Firstly, to whichever of you was responsible for the production of La Nozze Di Figaro I attended last week, if youre reading, thank you.

It was really well done, and a few people I was with, who have been to lots of operas before, said it was one of the shit-hottest operas theyve ever seen, so really, well done. I thought the music was beautiful. The singing, lovely. I would quite happily have sat and listened to your beautiful production all night.

However, most of the time I felt compelled to open my eyes, because the provision of surtitles and the fact that if I was just going to sit there shut-eyed I might as well be sitting at home on my sofa with a set of CDs and a galss of wine and my god that would have been more comfortable and also cheaper. And there wouldnt have been rude old people sitting behind to and next to me tutting. Or at least I hope not.

Anyway, every time I did open my eyes, I got annoyed, because I discovered those pantomimical mugging shouty buggers were still faffing about on stage. And you know what? Someone might want to look into that aspect of the whole thing. Because its kind of off-putting. The faffing-about-on-stageness.

I dont know if anyone from any of the major opera companies IS reading, of course, but if you are, there are some other things, and – although your respected patrons would probably tut at them – and lets face it, they seemed to tut at EVERYTHING else new, different or young, I think, so it wouldnt be a stretch – if you would at least look into them, I would be very enthusiastic about promoting the art of this Opera thing to my millions-strong, young, hip readership. Seriously.

So here we are:

Them surtitles. The surtitles (theyre like subtitles, but above the action, you see, its Latin) were great. And I was glad they were there. What with it being in Italian and everything. The problem was

Well, I should explain to anyone who has been to a play but not an opera the difference in plotstucture beteen the two:

In plays, the plot moves foward. More minutes in the play will generally be spent on the points of plot development than atmosphere-building. Well, generally.

In opera, as far as I can see, plot is something to get over with as quickly as possible in the bits between the arias. The typical bit of sung dialogue might go:

A: I love you!
B: Marrrrreee meee!
A: I cannot marry you! I am your father! In a dress! I must now kill you!
B: Oh no! You are my father and you will not marry me and you are in a dress and are about to kill me! Where shall I hide?! The Beech tree! Or the Ancient Oak tree!

And then there will be TEN MINUTES of song about different trees:

A: The oak, the oak, the oak!
B: Beeeeeeeeeeech! And Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaple!
A: Oakoakoakoakoakoakpine and maple!
B: Maple! Maple! Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaple! Oak oak oak!

And youre sitting there thinking – hang on, did those people really just spend 30 seconds discovering that they were father and daughter and then another seventeen minutes about the peep peep peep peep of the cuckoo in the oak tree? Because that seems a little illogical, doesnt it? Its almost as if the plot was just an excuse for the wonderful music and that expensive staging of it was therefore superfluous and rather. A crazy and illogical thought, I know.

Opera – let me warn you, my brethren – is very illogical indeed.

The thing with surtitles that no one told me was that they translate everything, but only until everyone starts repeating things over and over and over again. Which unfortunately, they do most of the time. So you would find your self thinking about something else for a second, and then realising that someone was singing the same thing over and over again. With no translation. Because it had been translated once, and for goodness sake if you werent concentrating the first time then frankly you simply didnt deserve to know. But you sit there. And you try and remember why the shouty man is quite so cross, and you just cant.

At one point, one of the leading men was shouting something that sounded like Chorizo!. I tried to remember what the converation had been about before I zoned out but – Chorizo! – as far as I was concerned, with no additional concentration for the short-concentration-spanned among us, the man was shouting SAUSAGE!.

Which fitted nicely into the conversation with his wife, I have to say.

Make sure not to cause a scandal!
Said the wife in the surtitles.
SAUSAGE!
said the husband, as far as I could tell.
It will all end in catastrophe!
Said the wife, worritly, in the surtitles.
SAUSAGE!!!
Said the husband. I think.

Also, there were in the opera I went to see, about nine main characters and 30 – I take no piss, THIRTY people who wandered around pulling clown-like faces and maybe possibly sang something about three quarters of the way through for about five minutes.

So frankly, it was difficult to tell, when all the useful people and all the useless people were on stage, who was singing. Because there was only one surtitle bar, lines crossing each other, complex plots etc, and much much confusion.

So I had an idea.

I have suggested it to my beloved the professional technical amazing and all the other technical amazings that I have met, and they were all very supportive, apparently the idea of magic speech bubbles that pop up whenever the pantomimical shouty buggers open their mouths and then follow them around, is a bad idea. No, really. Thats what they all said. Sorry.

But then, I suppose theyre right. If everyone had speech bubbles, it wouldnt make it better. Lets face it – all you people who even like it- – it would make it worse. Because you would actually have to really watch it, and would inevitably come to a realiastion that none of this, none of the spectacle made any logical sense at all, and that while it was something that deserved to be listened to in awe and rapture, staging it was a waste of time and money, for all involved.

So there you are. It was a beautiful night with incredible music, and I really am glad I went. Because it made me aware that I want to listen to a lot more opera, enjoy a lot more opera, learn a lot more about the opera that I listen to, and to never, ever darken the doors of an opera house ever again.

And yes, I realise the owners of worldclass opera companies reading this are proclaiming Do I look bothered? in one, warbling, castrati voice. Lets face it, you coped just fine without me before that night, and I without you. Let us simply continue in our mutual apathy. Thank you, and good night. Now cock off and warble twaddle for some other suckers hard earned fifty nicker.