Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saucy Maids and Why I Hate Them

In most (ok, like three) 18th and early 19th century operas, there is a saucy maid/peasant girl character, and I hate all of them. Susanna, Despina, Zerlina – the only one I can stand is Berta in Barber of Seville, and that’s because she’s old and has a funny song, although I admit I used to hate that too. But it grows on you after a while

Put it on in the background while you read the rest of this.

But no, Berta’s fine. I just hate the young saucy characters. Particularly ladies, because Figaro’s all right. Figaro, Masetto, whoever, they’re all fine because 1) they’re young baritones and I am all for that type being on stage, and 2) they’re usually comic in a way that isn’t essentially “look at me transgressing social boundaries!” (which I guess was funny because the 18th century nobility was pretty much like ‘ha-hah, the class system shall exist forever!’)

He's obviously just wasting her time.

Yes, it’s hilarious that the servant is the one who has to tell the upper class how things work/what they should do in whatever dilemma they find themselves, and I’m sure it was thrilling to watch such social rules being broken in the 18th century, but it is now 2011, we have touchpad computers like in Star Trek, and I am no longer scandalized or even interested in these things.

What lasts? I don’t know. Violetta giving up the only happiness she’s ever going to know for a girl she’s never met. Colline selling his coat to buy medicine for Mimi. Lucia stabbing her husband however many times on their wedding night (wait, no, that’s not good...opera’s messed up). People won’t get annoyed by these things, no matter how many centuries removed they are from their creation. Most characters are at least in some ways going to be a product of their time, and I’m sure there are some redeeming parts to saucy maids, but I don’t care to look for them. Their overriding quality is insolence (that word makes me feel like a 19th century villain), used for comic effect. It’s quite possible I’m the only one who doesn’t find it funny, and in that case, enjoy the clip and ignore the rest of this post. But saucy maids are outdated and dumb.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wherein I Make Fun of Another Opera

Ernani sucks. Let's just get that out of the way right now. It sucks and is dumb. The music's pretty good (Verdi: "Thanks, Alice" Me: "No problem, Verdi") but the plot's insanely, ridiculously stupid. Basically, it's based on a story by Victor Hugo, and they cut out a lot to make it into an opera (as we previously discovered with Così, anytime a character's upset, the action has to pause as they sing about how they're upset. This takes time).

There's a girl. Who's...kind of a princess or something. Three guys are in love with her. Ernani, whom we're supposed to like; Charles V, or "Carlo" or something; and this nobleman dude named Silva, whom we don't like because he's old. Elvira the Princess kind of bounces around from guy to guy with little explanation as to why. She actually loves Ernani. Due to various stupid plot points involving a horn, Ernani has to kill himself at the end.

You can tell it's an opera because she looks so soulful and INTENSE

Back when I was newly into opera and generally idealistic about life, I thought Verdi could do no wrong. This was based on my extensive knowledge of his body of work, or rather, the fact that I had listened to a recording of Traviata five billion times (appx) in high school. If he had written something as amazing as La Traviata, I reasoned, surely everything else he did was equally amazing. I thought this despite also knowing that George Lucas made both A New Hope and Attack of the Clones.

If I were actually going to choose a Verdian opera to make his AOTC, I'd probably choose something like Nabucco, but since I've never seen that staged, I'll stick with the Ernani thing, despite it having some beautiful music. Because hey, AOTC has some beautiful music. But I can never unhear that dialogue, and that has made my life sadder.

According to various websites, the following is why Ernani ends up killing himself: he, Silva and the King want to marry Elvira. There's some situation where Silva hides Ernani in a room from Charles V. Then: "Silva challenges Ernani to a duel and is astonished when Ernani reveals that Carlo [Charles V] is also a suitor for Elvira’s hand. The two agree to suspend their quarrel to take vengeance against the king. Once they have done so, Ernani says, his life will be in Silva’s hands. As pledge, Ernani gives Silva a hunting horn: when it is sounded, Ernani will kill himself.

WHAT? WHY?? Why would anyone do that ever?? The moment that happens in the opera, you first say "Well that's an idiotic thing to do," which is swiftly followed by the thought 'That's gonna bite him in the ass.' And indeed it does. Silva RANDOMLY SHOWS UP at the very end, blows the stupid horn, and Ernani's like "Oh, Elvira, even though we just got married and everything looked like it was going to be happy, now I have to kill myself."

Opera's kind of a huge 'suspension of disbelief' setup in the first place. But when you start adding things like "I have to kill myself because I gave that power to this man early on even though it was REALLY STUPID TO DO SO," things get into the 'beyond belief' category. I mean, it's not even tragic then. Instead you're left feeling sorry you wasted three hours listening to characters that were apparently mentally disabled try to navigate a complicated plot. I'm not sure why Verdi didn't ever ask his librettist "Wait...why does he give the guy the horn?" If I had one question to ask him, I'd probably blow it on that, just because this opera pisses me off so much.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Così fan tutte is really good but it sucks

I've only sat through Così once, and it was at my college. For some reason the Lyric Opera doesn't like doing it. Oh wait, I know why — because it's ridiculously long for its cast size and plot line.

Think about it. Big, hugely long movies have enormous casts and intricate plot lines and varied settings. They hold our interest. Can you imagine Independence Day with six people and it all taking place at Jeff Goldblum's house? No, because it would suck. Even on the operatic front, Wagner was like "oh damn, this Ring thing is gonna be kind of long. I better add in some dragons and giants and shit." And Così isn't even a drama. It's a comedy. There's a 90 minute rule for comedic films, which I think should be adapted to 150 minutes for comedic operas. Anything over that needs to be severely trimmed down.

Maybe some blog-stumbler is unaware of the plot of Così, the full title of which, by the way, is usually translated as 'All women are like that.' Really starting things out with a bang there, Mozart. Ok, here's the plot:

Dude 1 and Dude 2 brag to their kind of obnoxious, smug friend that there's no way their girlfriends would ever cheat on them. Smug Friend says "Yeah, well I'll bet they would." Dudes 1 and 2 make a bet with him that they'll dress up as Turks or something and try to seduce their girlfriends and the girlfriends won't cheat on them...with themselves. There was a Futurama episode kind of like this (Bendless Love) except it was 22 minutes long and awesome.

Anyway, the girlfriends are kind of resistant at first, but they finally give in and agree to marry them. In the middle of the wedding, their new Turkish boyfriends say something like "oh, whoa, sorry, we gotta check on something — we'll be right back." Then they remove their fake mustaches or whatever the director's decided to use to portray them as residents of the Ottoman Empire, and return as the original boyfriends. Smug Friend, who's been around the whole time, tells them their girlfriends were about to get married to two Turkish gentlemen, the men fake outrage, then they leave AGAIN and come back wearing part of their costumes from before. The girlfriends finally clue into what's been happening and everyone forgives each other.

Basically it's a horrible opera.

The only thing redeemable about it is the music, and that goes on for way too long. You have one of the characters sing an aria, then there's a duet, then then another aria, then a quartet, then another duet, etc. Keep in mind that in opera, when one of these things happens, it almost always freezes the action of the plot. Imagine you're reading a novel and it's supposed to be kind of fun and light, but every time a new thing happens, there're five internal monologues by the characters, each of which takes two or three pages. That's what Così is like. You go in expecting something snappy like Barber of Seville, but in the first 20 minutes you realize you were horribly wrong, and unless you wimp out and leave at intermission, the next three hours of your life will be spent watching something that could easily be accomplished in an hour and a half.

My theory about this opera is Mozart was dealing with 18th century opera singers, who, even compared to singers today, had an extremely inflated sense of self-worth. Mainly because opera singers were treated like rock stars back in the day, and more people than 70-year-olds and other opera singers knew who they were. So basically, he might've had a nice short thing in mind — I mean, The Impresario is delightfully short, so you know he could do it — and then after he wrote an aria for someone, one of the other singers said "Hey! If they get one, I get one." And it just kind of escalated. And I mean, I've seen  Amadeus, which I assume to be completely accurate, so I know how easy it was for Mozart to write music.

Hey, there's another theory. Maybe Salieri was leaning over his shoulder like some tempting demon saying "The audience will stand one more trio....just add it in...they have nothing better to do. It's the 18th century; what're they gonna need to do? Wash their horse? They can wash their horse tomorrow. Tonight they hear this trio. And add another aria for Whatsherface. She looked grouchy yesterday."

There's also a saucy maid in it, but I hate saucy maids, so I have elected to drop her from the plot. 

My recommendation for this opera is to get a recording of it and skip seeing it live. The only thing it has going for it is beautiful music, and if you're listening to a recording, you can always pause it and watch tv in between the endless ensembles. 

But you know, maybe there's a way it could be staged to keep it interesting. If you have an awesome setting it could be moved to instead of an 18th century parlor, do let me know.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Introduction, In Which I Quickly Get Defensive and Off-Track

I was a bit torn as to whether to do the clichéd ‘well, here’s my first posting’ entry, but since I’m typing this, I guess that’s what I’m going to do.
Here’s my first post. I hope to use this blog for posting not so much about my personal life (I mean, that’s what livejournal’s for. That and doing memes about which tv pairings you love the most), but rather as a way to rant/rave with ecstatic fits of glee about opera. If more personal things do happen to crop up at all, hopefully they will only be mentioned in that context.
I’m already feeling myself worry about grammar and style, so let me say right away that if you notice any grammatical errors, do NOT point them out to me, as it will only serve to make me resent you. The English language is one which evolves quickly, and while I am not a proponent of textspeak and other things that are aiding everyone to actively become dumber, I am pro-splitting infinitives and ignoring some of the more seemingly arbitrary grammatical rules. So instead of discussing my dangling modifiers, go listen to some soothing music and calm it down. And then notice something in that music that you love or hate and tell me and we can make fun of/laud opera together.
I was about to say this would be an essay-format blog, but…that’s pretty much every blog ever, so I guess what I mean is this will be like every blog ever. Only AWESOME.