Suppose you’d never been to an opera. That was me just a few weeks ago.
Then I won a ticket to see any Santa Fe Opera performance I wanted. A big fan of composer Richard Strauss, I chose Salome. After having heard from friends how beautiful the whole Santa Fe Opera experience was, I couldn’t wait to go.
I drive into the parking lot and notice the zest in which Santa Fe Opera people party. They dress like it’s New Year’s Eve and feast around fancy table set ups like its Thanksgiving dinner.
I enter the opera house for my very first time. It’s other-worldly. What a beautiful structure. Streamlined, clean. Comfy seats.
When the house lights dim, a setting sun – as seen through the opera house’s open back-end – turn set pieces into majestic silhouettes. Lights return, exposing a sparse but beautiful set.
Then, performers appear. They start talking, er, singing. That’s when the party ends.
Hearing a ton of German sung on stage, I constantly check subtitles posted on the chair back in front of me. I read Salome’s words, but only hear a song fest. It’s taking some getting used to, but I try to get into the swing.
Fifteen minutes through the production, characters still talk about the same thing they were talking – er, intoning – fifteen minutes ago when the show began. Not only that, but they’re prompting subjects that never come up in normal conversation (let alone ones people might sing about in public if so inclined).
The huge box that centers the stages slowly rotates 180 degrees to expose a new set containing a man sitting at a table in the middle of a room. He barely moves. A woman circles the area, pontificating about his nose. I check the time on my watch.
Fifteen minutes later, the man is still serenaded to, but the woman changes the topic to a musical discussion about his lips. Apparently, she likes him? It is here I believe a love story has entered the opera, but I’m not sure.
Four more watch-check intervals later, the woman holds up the man’s bloody head for all to see. She’s even performed a risqué dance in honor of the severed orb.
Then the opera is over. That’s it.
The guy behind me stands, yelling “Bravo!” Seconds later, the rest of the audience stands. What did I miss?
I glance at my ticket stub and the $118 price. What? This seat is pretty far back and way to the right.
You see, for better or for worse, this is how I see opera. I come from a generation steeped in television and movies where no one sings instead of talking to each other. Tonight, thousands attended Salome after waiting all year to experience its glory. Authors of the Bible, Oscar Wilde, Richard Strauss, even Al Pacino, have been captivated by Salome’s story, so what happened to me? Perhaps I should never have left the parking lot’s fine dining experience.
It all comes down to this: When a guest suddenly sings across the table to me, “Please pass the salt,” I immediately get the urge to be excused from my own dinner party to go watch TV.
6 responses to “Everything I Love About Opera Has Nothing to do With Opera”
Had a similar experience when I went to see the ballet Swan Lake. It’s this famous thing that’s supposed to be so magnificent, but I thought it was torture. I went because I’d seen Cinderella as a ballet and enjoyed it quite a bit. I think the difference was I knew the story of Cinderella and could follow it as I watched. I went into Swan Lake not knowing a thing about it. I do like to see a good play performed on-stage, though.
Now that I think about it, ditto for with Nutcracker Suite ballet. I remember coming away from seeing a live performance a few years ago thinking – that was it?
I’m with you on this, Mike. Never have been able to understand or enjoy opera.
Aside: perhaps this was the origin of my refusal to understand or enjoy – I vaguely remember a weekly Saturday afternoon operatic TV broadcast during the 60s. My sister and I mocked those bloated, overdressed operatic singers, trying out our sopranos and falsettos as we cleaned our mother’s house. Perhaps you remember such a TV program? I hope you or one of your readers can identify the source of my peccadillo.
found your blog randomly, funny story 😉 now, vocals aside, did you not enjoy the score? It’s one of Strauss’ best.
The thing with opera is that there’s lots of it and it varies widely in what it sounds like (but pretty much every one of them includes talking – theatre and all). Romantic, post-Romantic (Strauss) tends to go on and on but stuff like Mozart, Handel, Puccini and even contemporary things like John Adams’ ones are aria based so it’s more melody centred.
You didn’t enjoy this one but another one, say, from a different time period, in a different language (plenty in English) might do the trick should you want to explore further. Even a different one by Strauss (easiest choice is Der Rosenkavalier). Like with anything it’s best to be familiar ahead of time with what you’re going to see (youtube has tonnes of opera). Also different stagings for different tastes.
Thanks for the reply and your advice. I do know this – when Der Rosenkavalier comes around, based on that score that I’ve heard, I’ll be in line to see the opera. I don’t know if the opera is great, but the music may be enough to get me excited in many ways.
You’re welcome 🙂 the opera, if nothing else, is quite funny.