Monday, October 28, 2013

Bob Carr Nazis

This pic, from another production company, shows correct period costuming.
I went to see my second live opera yesterday at the Bob Carr. "The Barber of Seville" featured good rousing musical numbers, pretty, albeit anachronistic costuming, a cookie-cutter yet epitomically farcical plot and adequate lighting.

The orchestra was positioned this time in its pit yet they were exposed as opposed to during Broadway series musicals when the orchestra (of the touring troupe, not this, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra) is buried under the stage. This foreshortening of the stage depth may be the reason for the rather abysmal set design, but maybe it's just a lack of talent...the set components and props that were used were not that visually aesthetic or creative.

But let's get right into all the other things that just weren't right about this performance, shall we? 'Cause I ain't no reviewer for the Sentinel and I'm not going to be hurting anyone's feelings since they'll never read this. And besides, having to endure yet another visit to the much despised Bob Carr puts me into a snitty, cynical mood.

Yet again, the music emitting from the orchestra pit was actually more than adequate...it really was quite good (The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra can hold its own any day with other better known orchestras I'm sure) but that quality doesn't matter if you have to strain to hear it. Makes me wonder if they even have them mic'ed? Come to think of it, I couldn't see any visible mic'ing on the performers either (like the flesh-tone little bobbles taped to performers' foreheads in the Broadway productions). It could be they prefer to use only acoustical sound, maybe out of veneration of some tradition? If so, this would be just one of the many differences I've become informed of regarding Opera vs. Broadway Musical performances...especially here, at the dreaded, and evil...oh yes, evil...Bob Carr.

Regarding the music as composed, it had a little bit of everything...peppy, jaunty numbers and swooning romantic tomes but other than the iconic "Figaro" piece, it just seemed, well, kinda forgettable. I didn't come away playing a newly-learned tune in my head. And as for the aforementioned "Figaro" piece, it came up pretty early on, in the first half which was unfortunate for me since I was imprisoned in the cheap seats by the Bob Carr Nazis.

I was five minutes late and arrived to the doors of the orchestra seating area just as the overture had begun. Rather than allow me to quietly and discretely scoot to my seat without much of a fuss, especially since the performance hadn't really begun yet, the usher (ie. self-appointed Gestapo enforcer) told me I couldn't be seated since I was late and I'd have to wait until intermission. Then as if to take pity on me she offered to guide me to the rear of the orchestra seats to see if there were any available seats I could use until intermission. Oh, brother!

Then she was distracted since other people were showing up late and she left me standing there while she went to impose her Nazi rules on them too. Indignant and impatient since the performance was starting without me, I tried sneaking down the corridor towards my appointed seating area and she snapped at me, insisting I follow her to the cheap seats.

She poked her head through the door, used her little flashlight to find an empty seat and let me slide in. But then she left me. The door closed behind her and suddenly I was there standing in the pitch dark unable to see anything except the stage area which itself was only dimly lit to allow focus on the orchestra, illuminated only by their low lumen music stand lamps. No subtle LED aisle strips or even step lights. I now saw (ironic pun intended) why one couldn't be seated during the performance. There was no way I'd be able to see well enough to find my row letter without a flashlight or light from a cell phone. And that would be undoubtedly rude.

Since the Nazi bitch abandoned me without pointing out the available seating, I was left just standing there avoiding feeling my way around lest I potentially be groping peoples' heads and shit. So I had to just stand there, facing the stage until my eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness. After what seemed an eternity I walked down the aisle and stood near the wall right at where I estimated my assigned row to be. I watched as the performance began and stayed there for the first few sets but eventually resigned myself to the fact that I couldn't unobtrusively find my proper row and even if I could, I was in seat 22 which meant I'd be pissing at least 21 people off as I tried to scoot my fat and clumsy self past them. I went back to the cheap seats which I could now see and sat in a relatively deserted section dejectedly.

When intermission came I was feeling the effects of my long day (having stayed up since the evening before due to work) and needed some caffeine. I bought a Diet Coke at the bar and proceeded to make my way back and find my assigned seat. But, shouting "Halt!" in a terse German accent (or so I imagined) the same scrunchy-faced, crimson-colored polyester blazer uniformed, old evil Nazi munchkin lady blocked my way, hands held out as if to actually push me away (I'm not kidding about that, she was really going to physically redirect me if needed!)

"Food and Beverages are NOT ALLOWED in this area, sir!" she barked as she nodded towards a faux-engraved, faux-brass sign posted on the nearby wall indicating this rule.

"Since when?" I boldly barked back, daring to challenge her. (I've always been allowed to seat with beverages before, it was allowed...everyone brought shit to the seats.) She went on to explain that the rules were different for the Broadway series performances than they were for the opera.

"That's how it has always been." she asserted imperiously, perhaps as a jibe to my obvious lack of knowledge of the proper opera etiquette. Well excuse-fucking-me! (No, I didn't say that, but oh, I sure wanted to.)

I meandered back to the bar, finished my soda, walked properly empty handed now back towards the seating area and as I passed her again I gazed at her coolly, jerked my right hand up into a quick Nazi salute, mumbled "Sieg Heil!" and marched quickly down the steps. (Yes, I actually did this. I'm such a prick.)

I finally sat in the seat I'd paid for but I found I was sandwiched between a snobby "gracefully-graying" foo-foo Winter Park type with her voluminous Irish wool cable-knit sweater/shawl cascading across the arm rest we "shared" and a stern looking old baldy who didn't utter a peep, didn't even chuckle at the comic parts of the performance and appeared inconvenienced to give even a faint half-hearted applause where applicable. Oh, and of course he was even bigger than me, smelled slightly of tobacco and breathed like Darth Vader.

The last few things that detracted from my enjoyment of this opera were somewhat minor, but seemed inappropriate or cheesy. The subtitles, high above the stage, were frequently worded in contemporary slang and modern idioms (like when one character is dismissive of another saying: "Whatever.") which was surely meant as a way of continuing the tongue-in-cheek atmosphere of the opera into another medium but really...where does it go next? Having characters set in the 17th century saying "LOL" or "Let's be BFFs?"

And mentioning setting in time reminds me of another issue I have. The opera's plot and events, though, of course, totally fictional (and too stupidly inane to be believed under any other circumstance) supposedly take place in the "17th century." Well, in this performance, the costuming and, I guess, set design (I'll rib that in a minute) portray fashions more in the style of the mid to late 18th century (silk brocade waistcoats, knee-length breeches, powdered wigs). From researching on the web, it appears many performances of this opera are styled as such so perhaps it was intended to be purposefully anachronistic by Rossini or tradition has set it as the expected style perhaps as a symbolically metaphorical nod to the time just before the French Revolution since the opera and that period of time both have similar themes (rigid class hierarchy, entitlement of the nobility and arranged marriages).

The set was almost minimalist and looked like they ran out of money in their budget. Some elements didn't fit well in my opinion like the contemporary-styled umbrellas hung by wire in one scene, obnoxious strobe light effects in a zany slapstick "tie-up the doctor, fling papers all about and flee the scene" act to the clearly-aluminum ladder propped up to the "balcony" near the end.

But in the end, I did, despite all these detractions enjoy the opera. In the "Fredda ed immobile, comme una statua" Act I finale, the lighting effects added a lot of pleasing visual interest and dynamics to the puppet-miming characters. And in the Act II finale, the golden balloons on sticks (and the hilariously near-naked butler and maid) are another nice touch. Overall, the vocals and instrumentals were superb and the comic elements were indeed funny. I didn't care about the romantic love story other than rooting for the cunning and vibrant underdogs and hissing the arrogant and selfish doctor. But I think that's the intent. The story used the trite stereotypical "damsel-in-distress" formula merely as a way to frame the comedy and frivolity.

I liked it. I really did. But, to be honest, I really do like this version a bit better:

.

Ha ha! Seriously though, I guess I'll now just have to wait patiently for the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to replace the stodgy and decrepit Bob Carr. Its Nazi staff will hopefully not follow.

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