Have you ever been to the opera? Pre November 2013 if you’d asked me the same question I would have responded rather physically by falling off my chair amidst laughter of note. You wouldn’t be far wrong picturing me amongst oxygen tanks, masks and extremely large vessels of smelling salts.
Post November though I can tell you I finally experienced that which I have been avoiding for longer than I have been able to walk unaided. Yes it is true, minus armfuls of popcorn, boiled sweets and cool drink with loads of ice and a very long straw, and fully at my own free will, I crossed the opera threshold. I sat amongst those who can translate without sub-titles, and joyously managed to almost fall asleep only once. I sum this up with one word. Pride. Come on now, you can’t fall asleep all that easily with several folk belting their hearts out a mere few rows before you!
My first experience then was to watch a local Cape Town production of what I like to call Figaro, but I think is really called The Barber of Seville. Please correct me at your will. And before you ask, no I did not purchase a program to refer back to. I never do, much preferring to strain my neck to read over the shoulder of the person in the row before me.
This production was set in Cuba with the era being pretty modern, if you consider the days of Downton Abbey modern that is. There was a distinct colonial feel to everything, but I’m prepared to accept this as a subjective interpretation. I don’t know why, but a drawing room full of greenery with folk sitting around in suits and waistcoats always gives me a stiff-upper lip in the tropics feel.
Well blow me down, if they hadn’t set up sub-titles for dim-wits like me to follow. And even better they were in English. Very clever for those not versed in the old Italian lingo. It was sort of along the lines of the supermarket system where a streaming line of text advises you which teller to use, or provides hints on opening times etc. The only difference being you didn’t shift seats every ten seconds or so. Retrospectively that could have been quite fun actually. Imagine moving to the right every time somebody on stage sung “Figaro”. You could be out the door before the second act.
Despite the brilliance of the scrolling sub-titles, I did have one little problem with the system. Yes, quite a few times the same words were repeated over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over . . . and over again. There was a point when I was tempted to seek out the maintenance man, or log a call with the opera help-desk to get the darn thing fixed. I mean it seemed rather odd for e.g. “yes he did” to be repeated about twenty times, didn’t it?
Well clearly no it wasn’t, because I learnt during the interval this was in fact correct. And yes, the performer was supposed to be repeating the same line at different levels of decibels, while perfecting multiple arm extensions for far longer than is really needed to get a point across. Jeepers, for those who could actually understand the words, it must have been akin to a stylus being stuck on a record. You could imagine the need to leopard crawl onto the stage, your intention being to provide Figaro with a hefty nudge to the back of his shins.
Jokes aside, I actually quite enjoyed it. The highlight for me being an elderly character who was either a drunk old codger, or a sound asleep one. Either way he never seemed to move far from one chair to another, his head constantly slumped, and/or eyes floating around their sockets. Despite his non-staring role, he was hilarious, barely singing a word while brilliantly flopping here and there, completely in sync with the other characters, moving props as and when needed to work with the story.
Would I go again then? Yes I think I would, but maybe a more traditional version to see how they compare. I can’t say I was bowled over by the experience, but equally I wasn’t put off for life. How about you, ever been, liked it, loved it, hated it or indifferent?