Something About Me

16 Feb

You guys?  I like the opera.  It’s true!  I have gone to the opera twice in the last year or so and I liked it both times!  If I had told my 15-year-old self, or even my 25-year-old self, this bit of information both of those selves, and all the selves in between, probably would have laughed and said something along the lines of

“Why in the world would you want to sit in a room and listen to people yodel for 4 hours?”

Here’s the thing.  Opera singers, as it turns out, do not yodel.  To be fair, I don’t think I ever thought they actually yodeled, I think it was just my way of being a dismissive asshole.  Kids, you know?  (Also maybe 25-year-olds?)

Anyway so last night my friend Dee took me to see Rusalka at The Metropolitan Opera and it was really great.  Here are some facts:

–> Rusalka, by Antonin Dvorak,* is one of the most successful Czech operas.

–> The story-line was written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil based on fairy tales by Karel Jaromir Erben and Bozena Nemcova.

–> As if we didn’t all know this already, fairy tales are deeply disturbing.

–>A ‘Rusalka,’ in Slavic mythology, is a water sprite who most often lives in a lake or a river.

As one might assume, the character Rusalka in Rusalka is a water nymph and a lot of the staging takes place in and around a neat little lake thing.  Set designers are really unbelievable.  I think maybe I will be a set designer in my next life.  The basic story is that Rusalka, stuck in the depths of the lake, falls in love with a human and goes to the witch Jezibaba to be turned into a human so that she can experience the love of her prince.  Jezibaba says that in return Rusalka must give up her voice.  Obviously I was having flashbacks to The Little Mermaid through the entire opera which kind of made me feel like a bad person and also very deeply American.  (I know it was written by Hans Christian Anderson [a Dutchman!] but all I can think of is Walt Disney.)  I kept imagining Jezibaba with 8 arms.  Sadly, or happily maybe, she only had two and that did not change at any point during the performance.  There was scandal!  There was cheating!  There was heartbreak!  There was serious repetition of the words ‘alas’ and ‘woe.’  I’m not going to give away the particularities of the ending just in case you want to see it, but if you want a clue just imagine what would have happened had The Little Mermaid taken an incredibly tragic turn and someone died.  It really had to happen that way because, as far as I can tell, a good opera has a very drawn-out death scene.  It’s not an opera unless someone lies crumpled on the ground, vocal cords exhausted, when the final curtain falls.

Unlike The Little Mermaid, Rusalka was 4 hours long with two intermissions.  Dee and I got “seats” in the Family Circle which basically meant we were relegated to standing at the tippy top of the theater leaning on carpeted platforms that had the little translation screens embedded in them.  (Note to anyone who decides to go see it: be careful that you don’t hit the button to the right of the screen with your elbow and spend the first 10 minutes of the performance trying to decipher the songs sung in Russian using German subtitles.  There are English subtitles.  I went through this so you don’t have to.)  You might think “ugh, how awful!  What a waste of money!”  Well, you would be wrong!  It is true, we couldn’t make out facial expressions or the details of the sets or costumes, but what we could do was hear the voices which, in opera, do not use any sort of amplification other than what is provided by the architecture of the theater itself.  We were standing SO HIGH and yet we could hear the performers’ voices over all the hundreds of people and seats and over all the instruments in the pit. And let me tell you there were a lot of instruments in there.  To think about it is really awe inspiring.

As a feminist there were parts of the story that I found problematic.  In modern parlance I would say that there was quite a bit of slut shaming throughout.  But the thing was written in the late 1890s so I really have to forgive it that.  It is interesting, though, to really think about how long the history of gender inequality is and how deeply our cultural understanding of the role of men and women really runs.  It makes people’s preconceived notions much more understandable, even though they are based in antiquated ideas and therefore should be challenged.  That particular problem aside, I thought the opera was lovely.  And I was impressed by the diversity of the crowd.  And I was very thankful that, at an institution as incredible and beautiful as The Met, I was able to go out for a magical and affordable night with one of my best girlfriends.  Let’s hope that great art always finds a way to be affordable for as many people as possible, even if it means 4 hours of standing.

So, yea, if you’re in New York, give the opera a whirl.  You won’t be disappointed.  Even if you find it’s not your thing, just bask in the incredible possibility of human talent and hard work.  It’ll take your breath away.

*I don’t know how to make all the appropriate accents and pronunciation marks over his name.  I am not good at technology.  Sorry, Dvorak.

3 Responses to “Something About Me”

  1. marissap333 February 16, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    I used to go with my dad to Met in the parks. If you thought opera was fun, try going to see it for FREE outside on a lovely day! I even had a nerdy t-shirt from one of our outings that I wore in high school. Maybe we can have an opera picnic in the summer!

  2. marissap333 February 16, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    I used to go with my dad to Met in the parks. If you thought opera was fun, try going to see it for FREE outside on a lovely day! It combines my two favorite things in life: free and outside! I even had a nerdy t-shirt from one of our outings that I used to wear in high school. Outdoor opera: here we come!

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