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Drawing room opera and political theatre

April 20, 2011

I’ve liked Chagall ever since seeing Notting Hill. It’s silly, I know, but I love the scene where Anna and William talk about the violin-playing goat. The one at the Met is largely my favorite color, and a friend bought a print of it on a t-shirt for me a few years ago. His is such a different style from Van Gogh, long my favorite artists since I copied one of his sunflower paintings in grade school. I got to see the one above in person again tonight before the performance of Capriccio.

It was a weird night. The curtain time was 8:30 instead of 8:00 because the opera is a bit shorter than I suppose the typical opera is, and it is also performed without intermission. My date was sick (OMG I will NOT get sick. I will NOT get sick! Holy week is about to commence and I CANNOT get sick.), so I went solo. I was really paranoid about having to sit there for 2.5 hours without a break. I think that’s a lot to ask of an audience member.

Right as the lights went down, a guy wormed his way into our row and tried to sit in the seat next to me. He said he couldn’t see because of the guard rail in front of his actual seat. I told him that the seat where he wanted to sit, where I had conveniently stowed all my stuff, was mine. I had paid for it. He could sit to my right, though. He then proceeded to sleep through most of the performance, so I’m not really sure why he was so concerned about not being able to see.

Then, about 2/3 of the way through, the person behind me let one rip. Disgusting!

The opera itself was sort of strange in that not much happened. There was some good singing, but I tend to like stories rather than debate. Centered around the question of whether poetry or music is the better art, the Countess provokes the two dudes who have fallen in love with her to duke it out in their respective fields, culminating in a plan to write an opera together. “All” of this transpires in the course of one afternoon. She tells them she will decide between them by the next day, but you never find out how she decides to resolve things. It felt like a play trying to be an opera. Or something. Not my favorite, but again, at least there was some good singing, as well as some decent stabs at broad comedy. Fleming was especially good in the protracted final scene, but I thought her costumes were not the most flattering, and the few long orchestral interludes left her to wander around the stage awkwardly, agonizing over her inability to choose a suitor.

***

Speaking of Chagall, did you know he is part Belarusian? I have been casually following the political drama playing out in Belarus because the Belarus Free Theatre is back at La MaMa again, this time performing three plays in repertory. We saw Being Harold Pinter last week, and it was quite good. They lost me a bit at the beginning because there was so much talking, and so much Pinter, which I wasn’t familiar with. In Belarusian and Russian with English subtitles, it was hard to follow the action and read the titles because there was just so much text to get through. However, when it moved into more political and, I suppose, literal (as opposed to literary), territory toward the end of the show, I was deeply moved. The actors have all experienced the things they talk about on stage.

First person drama can be tricky. Last month we saw the latest iteration of Ping Chong’s Undesirable Elements program, called Secret Survivors. The program has produced 30 works within the same basic structure, but on different topics, using non-actors to tell their own stories. Secret Survivors was about childhood sexual abuse, so it had the potential to be very potent. I found myself very moved that these people were able to get up and tell their stories, but distracted by the unevenness of the performances, and the ways in which adhering to an established form reduced the dramatic impact of some of the content.

In the end, though, I was just sad about everyone’s situation, and angry because once again rape played a large role in the violation of women in both shows. Sometimes it feels as though women are constantly under siege. I wonder if it has always been this way, and if it will always be so. I do not understand it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Julia Bates permalink
    April 22, 2011 11:27 am

    Now more than 50% of women live alone in the U.S. This is the first time that’s every been true for a culture in written history–myths of the Amazon women aside. So maybe there’s potential for women to define a culture that is not abusive, starting from this new foundation. Though I hope they find friends and supporters so they are not lonely!

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