Friday, November 6, 2009

Live Blog: My first night at the opera, with "Carmen"

I've been hiding a terrible secret. Though I've spent nearly my whole life immersed in the world of live theatre and film, a true thespian geek having acting in and seen countless plays, musicals, shorts, experimental pieces, and more--I have never, in my truly ancient now nearly 28 years on God's green Earth, seen an opera.

I know! A terrible oversight on my part, to be sure. And it's not that I don't like opera, or at least, what I've heard of it. But that's just it; I've only ever just heard opera and frankly it never really caught and held my attention. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the appeal lies in the viewing of opera's famously colorful and larger-than-life stagings. So when Madison Opera’s manager of communications and community outreach Brian Hinrichs contacted me about taking part in their first-ever "Bloggers Night Out" at their upcoming production of George Bizet's "Carmen," I jumped at the chance to right this particular wrong.

It's a great idea, and it's also encouraging to see more entrenched institutions seeking new ways to reach wider audiences. Frankly, the more people we get interested and involved in the arts, the merrier. And I'm pleased as punch to be part of the effort!

So tonight I'm pulling out my opera glasses, changing out of the Blogger Pajamas and into my gussiest outfit, and getting ready for some no-holds-bar operatic action! And I hope you'll stick around to follow me as I marvel and ramble about all things "Carmen" and Madison Opera for an evening. If nothing else, my near complete lack of opera knowledge should provide for an entertaining train wreck of an entry.

You can also follow along with my fellow bloggers this evening:
And for more information about Madison Opera (and there's one more production of "Carmen" coming up this Sunday!), check out their website, blog, and Twitter feed.

Now! On with the live blog! Check back often for updates as the show progresses. Starting around 7:15 p.m. (CST) I'll be writing before, at intermission, and at the conclusion of the event.

(All photos courtesy James Gill / Madison Opera)

7:22 p.m.

I've just breezed into the Overture Center from an impromptu trip to Milwaukee to see a friend defend his graduate thesis (passed!). Catching my breath after battling traffic to get here on time, but everything seems to have worked out.

I would feel more out of place in my somewhat rumpled outfit and fabulous white Chucks if this wasn't Madison, but really, nothing in this town is that fancy. So I'm hopeful they won't kick me out.

Us dirty bloggers have been given a couple of tables in the main lobby where we're all sitting in a row, pecking away at our laptops, presumably all talking opera. I should probably be doing that, too, come to think of it.

Lots of well-dressed folks milling about. I'm sitting next to Dane101's Maddie Greene, who wrote an excellent behind-the-scenes piece about this production of "Carmen" that I recommend checking out here.

So I've been reading up on the show, and I'm told that there will be captions for those of us who don't speak...wait, what's this in? French, I think? Oh man, clearly I'm just terribly unprepared and unqualified for this gig, but don't tell. I've created quite the reputation for myself based on the ability to pretend I have any clue what's going on. I'd like to thank the Academy...

7:36 p.m.

Flamenco dancers! Not gonna lie: I already love dance, but add some percussion to the mix and you can be sure I'm going to love it. This particular group is Tania Tandias Flamenco & Spanish Dance, and they're quite good.

Excuse the crappy camera phone picture, but it's the limit of my technology this evening. Anyway, there's really no way to fully appreciate the dance unless you see it live. I dig how you can trace the influence of flamenco (a relative/forefather--depending on who you ask--of Celtic step dancing) and it's ilk in modern step dance and groups like Stomp. They're all related, of course, and it would take a far more knowledgeable scholar to break it all down. The important thing is that it's all fabulous, of course.

7:45 p.m.

I suspect the doors will be opening soon, and it looks like Brian and the Opera have hooked us up with pretty nice seats. But I'm still enjoying the dancers, so not going in just yet.

By the way, if you'd like a good overview of what "Carmen" is all about, take a look at this handy .pdf and read up. Basically, it's your standard story of a naughty lady tempting away several men and the drama that arises from the love triangle. Women. So life disrupting.

7:52 p.m.

Chimes! Sounds like it's time to head into the theatre. I am prepared for spectacle!

9:00 p.m.

First intermission (of two!). We've just left Carmen and poor Don Jose after an encounter wherein his attentions were turned from a painfully chaste relationship with Micaela, the young orphan girl adopted by his mother, and to the seductress gypsy woman Carmen. All because of a "charmed" flower. Men are so easy.

So far so good. It's easy to forget (or just not know in the first place) that a lot of the music from "Carmen" has permeated our popular culture. You hear pieces of it in all sorts of things--cartoons, movies, etc. And there's a reason: It's quite good. Catchy, even, if opera can be called such.

The set, on loan from another opera company (I'm blanking on the name), is gorgeous--towering walls with lovely scene painting. It's impressive without being cluttered or overdone. Much credit goes to the costumers, who've taken an enormous loaner wardrobe and tailored, trimmed, and taken in all manner of get-up for a fairly numerous cast.

The whole production, so far, seems to have come together very well. A great orchestra (the Madison Symphony Orchestra, lead by the venerable John DeMain), excellent scene and costume work, and a solid cast. The Madison Youth Choirs even got in on the action, providing the always somewhat gratituitous but adorable counterpoint to the melodrama of the adults on stage.

And I had to laugh - Carmen is one of the girls who works at a cigarette factory and, naturally, almost all of them smoke. Very un-PC, all that puffing and tobacco enjoyment. Had this been written and produced in modern times, I suspect the cigarette factory might have been replaced by, say, a solar cell manufacturing plant. Hah! The bells are chiming, back to it...

10:04 p.m.

Aaaaand second intermission. This blogging between acts is quite the high pressure gig. Don't feel there's enough time to sum up everything we've seen or thought about the performance, but in general I should say that this is quite entertaining.

The main lesson I'm taking from this story is that women are tricksy, and men are easily duped fools. Basically, a tale as old as time. But told with such flare! And plenty of soaring lyrics, dance, and color. Can't complain, really. I do appreciate the high drama and production value, and frankly, there just isn't enough of this in mainstream culture these days. Unless you count "Glee," which I do, but it's only one show after all.

Anyway, impressed overall with the main vocalists. Have to say their Carmen, Katharine Goeldner, is extremely talented. She not only has the pipes to pull off the various pieces, but a great, jaunty, assured presence befitting of her character. And Adam Diegel as silly ol' Don Jose has a beautiful voice overall (though I'm pretty sure I've heard him falter on some of the quieter notes--I don't feel quite qualified to criticize this style of singing). I even heard a few shouted "Bravos!" at the end of his solo in the last act.

But the bells chime again and we must obey. Back to the show!

11:20 p.m.

Fin! After a healthy standing ovation and my hands near falling off from the clapping, we come to the end of the show. My first opera! And it was, indeed, worth seeing. Many kudos to Madison Opera for putting together an excellent production--to the cast, crew, and everyone else behind the scenes. And I'm told they're putting this on again this Sunday, so I would certainly recommend looking into getting yourself some tickets and injecting some culture into your weekend.

My sincere thanks to Brian Hinrichs for the opportunity to see this show, and to sit in the lobby and have people look askance at me as I sit here and type away. All worth it! And it's not as though I'm not somewhat used to drawing confused glances.

Honestly, at this point I need to put some sleep between myself and the experience, and I may have more coherent thoughts on the whole thing tomorrow. Overall, however, I'll sum it up this way: Not a knock-your-socks-off type of show, but still very entertaining and professional.

And with that, I'm spent. A simple girl like me can only handle so much high drama and sung dialogue before she needs some downtime to process everything she's just witnessed. In the meantime, I intend to dream of flamenco dancers and a world where we solve our problems through song. Ah, if only.

1 comment:

The Costuminatrix said...

Hehe, Emily, thanks for the costumes shout-out! Every time we get such a big show in we wonder if all the alterations will get done, and they always do thanks to our fearless leader Karen and a seasoned set of stitchers. Glad you enjoyed your first opera - although overwhelming is a good word, opera is such a huge multifaceted spectacle - and hope it keeps you coming back.

The Lost Albatross