Monday, April 08, 2013

My First Live Opera

A couple of weeks ago, I got a discount entertainment offer from Travelzoo for $24 tickets to the Orlando Symphony Orchestra's presentation of the Puccini opera "Madama Butterfly." Having never attended a live opera I jumped on this deal. Also, as it was Sunday matinee performance, it fit in with my work schedule well.

I was a little tired going into the Bob Carr for the 2:00 pm showing yesterday afternoon, but the energy was palpable and I was soon feeling wide awake. The theater was packed! I never knew opera was so popular here. Admittedly, the audience was mostly of the blue-haired set, but there were a fair amount of middle-aged folks like me. As expected, not too many younger people, but there were a few, some families too including some pre-teen kids...I bet they were thrilled. I wonder if they were wishing it was a Justin Beiber concert rather than a hundred-year-old opera in Italian.

My seats were up in the balcony. I could have chosen orchestra seats in the same mid-range distance from the stage for the same price but I thought I'd get a different perspective than the last few times I'd been here. My acrophobia wasn't lovin' it. I was right on the edge. And it was about a sixty foot drop. Won't come up here again, I thought to myself. I made do though and it wasn't long before I had another complaint.

I've mentioned previously about the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center's abysmal features: small and tightly packed seats which are old and creaky, horrible acoustics and sound, bad air conditioning that keep the place just barely comfortable, a pitifully tiny stage and an incredibly dull 1970s minimalist decor. Well, probably because of the unsuitable orchestra pit, or maybe just the Orlando Symphony's weird staging choice, they placed the orchestra on the stage behind the performers. It wasn't that bad, really, but I was hoping for something a bit more traditional for my virgin viewing.

In preparation for this event, I read up on the plot synopsis of the performance in order to avoid being confused or clueless about what was going on on stage, but, I soon found out, I needn't have worried since there was a discreet digital projection of subtitles high above the action so we could understand what was being sung. Nice, but I found that after a while, it became a bit distracting so I only used it to get some of the general themes of the plot as it unfolded. The dialog was written, I guess in the fashion of operas of the early 20th century, in very flowery and poetic prose so you really didn't need to catch every single word since much of the wording was superfluous or redundant. Plus, just watching the performers' faces and body language informed you best of what was going on.

The poor sound of the theater really was a detraction for me. Being up in the balcony, I got a more muted audio experience. But it may also have been the performers and their lack of skill and confidence. I felt the male roles were especially weak. Shu-Ying Li as the lead, Cio-Cio-san did a really nice job but in an opera that, IMHO, has only one really phenomenal aria, I felt she could have done better with the famous "Un bel di."

I was also disappointed by the staging and costuming. I was expecting better. If I were the Artistic Director, I would have really expanded the visual pageantry. The fact that the setting was a post Meiji Restoration Japan and its revolutionary focus moving towards a modern era along with the romanticism of such an over-the-top love tragedy dealing with teen-angst, cultural clashes and unrequited love culminating in suicide.

But despite the flaws, I did enjoy the performance. My left knee was complaining about being in a cramped position for three hours but it was a welcome change to get out into the world and experience a little bit of culture.

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