A night at the Oper
I don’t know about you, but since I’ve been reading most fiction on my Kindle, I’ve noticed that publishers have upped their game a bit. They’ve made an effort to create more attractive and interesting books with features that can’t be replicated on a small handheld device and from time to time, I’ve felt that ebooks have been A Good Thing in providing an incentive to be more creative with the printed page and to produce something a little more extraordinary as a result.
Something similar happened last night. We have got used to going along to the cinema, to watch opera live from the Met and to enjoy a relaxed evening with friends in a comfortable, spacious setting. We take along wine, snacks, chocolates and from time to time have commented how much more civilised (and cheaper!) it is to see world-class performances in this way rather than pay a fortune to travel to London and buy tickets for the real thing.
It was almost as if someone was listening, though, because last night’s performance was so utterly magical and definitely couldn’t be replicated on any screen, however big, however superb the sound system might be.
It started with our realisation that this Aida performance was not going to be one which might have been performed in Verona. There were to be no elephants, no lavish settings, no cast of thousands. In fact, the stage was rather spare and having read that it was to be performed in modern dress, we were curious. When we took our seats in the dress circle, we could see only a few boxes around the stage and a desk with some papers on it. The backdrop was plain black with a screen. We had no idea…
There might have been a little clue in the foyer as we waited for the auditorium to open, because from time to time a trumpeter would appear amongst us and play the first line of the Grand March – just a few notes to begin with, but then, a little more. A small teaser for what was to come, then.
There was no curtain to go up, but as the stage came to life, we noted there was no orchestra pit – they were behind the black gauze screen on stage and the white screen, which was showing what appeared to be a montage of Egyptian themed images turned out to be a live screencast from a docucam over the desk – as the story moved on, characters were able to highlight particular images there and it was a most effective means of revealing their thoughts.
The big surprise, however, was yet to come. The first act began with the principals on stage and gently, we heard a chorus somewhere. Offstage? Hmmm….not sure. But then, a couple of rows in front of us, a gentleman stood up and began to sing in a rich, bass voice.
As the story moved on, the chap next to him stood up – he too was part of the cast; playing the King. He had one of those rich, Russian-style basso profundo voices and I can tell you, everyone around us sat up in their seats. This was magical.
Nothing could have been more magical than when the chorus began to sing, however. By that, I mean to reallysing. We’d now worked out that they too were sitting amongst the audience; we could see a group of men in the boxes either side of the balcony as they stood to sing but we could hear women’s voices from downstairs in the stalls and elsewhere. At times, it was rather like being part of a flashmob. We just didn’t know who might stand and sing next, or where the glorious sound would come from.
Of course, it all came to a climax in the Grand March, which was one of the most fantastic, completely immersive experiences I’ve enjoyed. The sound was extraordinary – the more so because it was all around us, we were part of it. Everyone in the audience around us was captivated too – we sat open mouthed. Wow.
The story doesn’t end well, sadly, and the second half doesn’t contain any such triumphs, but nevertheless, we all left the opera house buzzing from the experience and I’m sure we’ll not be alone in counting that particular performance as one of the greatest opera experiences ever. Sure, a night at the cinema is fun and we’ll still enjoy watching Anna Netrebko and Jonas Kaufmann (oh….Jonas Kaufmann…..!) now and then. But one thing is certain.
There really is nothing like live music.
(a review and better description can be found here, in German but Google does a pretty neat translation into English if you need it!)