Tuesday, March 02, 2004

LA Scene: LA Opera @ the Dorothy Chandler

(Ninth in a series of occasional posts on Los Angeles life)

Hi Kari:

I went to the opera for the third time in my life last Thursday night.  

I can't remember a thing about the first opera I went to.  There were no supertitle translations and they wouldn't have helped me because they would have been in German! I contented myself to enjoying the grand interiors of the opera house and people watching which was fun enough because it was at the famed Vienna State Opera House. If you are ever in Vienna be sure to check out the last minute standing area ticket option which is how I got to see the show.

The second one I saw was Turandot with the Berio completion. Lots of action on the stage, colorful costumes and big sets... it was like... you know a musical?!

You (but most readers might not?) may know that Puccini died before he completed Turandot. The ending has been a source of discontentment for opera fans. Here is an excerpt from the article I linked in the previous paragraph:
The well-known Finale by Franco Alfano has often been derided for its loud, crude, bombastic chords and heavy-handed orchestration that are contrary to Puccini’s original intentions.  The recent unearthing of Puccini’s 20 additional sketches further discredited Alfano’s work, and served as an impetus for Berio’s new attempt at solving the ultimate Turandot Riddle; i.e., how to end the opera as the composer had wished – softly and quietly – without making it sound like an anticlimax.
Since I have never seen the more commonly performed ending, I can't say whether I like Berio's effort better. I can say I liked the Berio ending and it was indeed soft and quiet and a little ambiguous. When I say ambiguous, I mean that, in my opinion, the solidity of Turandot's love for Calef was left somewhat unclear by the mood of the music and the actions of the singers on stage.

For my third opera, I saw Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Here is the plot synopsis. And here are some photos from the LA Opera web site of the current Robert Wilson production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.

Since I've only seen the Wilson staged Butterfly, I can't compare. In the pre-opera lecture, the speaker said that often times Butterfly is staged in very elaborate fashion. In his opinion, some productions were like barnacle encrusted ships and not very appealing.

Wilson's staging was sparse as seen in the production photos. The music set the mood and the lighting panel at the back of the stage added a visual element to the emotional temperature.

Are you familar with the details of the opera?

There was one part that I'm still trying to figure out and perhaps you (or any opera knowledgable readers) could help me out. In the scene before the finale, Butterfly's son did a ballet like sequence where he danced/walked around the house and picked up pebbles and put them into his mouth. Eventually, he returned to his mother and took them from his mouth and gave them to her. She then took the pebbles and went outside with them and appeared to put them onto a pile of rocks.

What is that all about?

These hang in the north part of the Chandler.

These light up the East lobby of the orchestra wings.

The pre-opera lecture was well attended. I caught the last ten minutes of the talk.

The water fountains in the plaza between the Mark Taper and the Dorothy Chandler.

I can't say I'm a fan of opera yet. But I am beginning to see the appeal.

First, there is simply beautiful music. I happen to like most types of music but especially classical music.  

Second, the emotional content of the story and lyrics reaches me. People don't talk in arias but by putting maximal beauty into the choice of words, the turns of phrase, the imagery and the emotion, it somehow elevates the human experience it describes.  It has the same effect on me that Shakespere does.  Most of us don't run around speaking in iambic pentameter but his words capture the truth of the human experience even if it is not expressed in a "normal" way.  

Thirdly, there is something neat about the whole atmosphere of an opera... the staging, the lighting, the costumes and the people watching. Going to the opera itself is an event unto itself.

I have to conclude this post with the lyrics from the most famous part of Butterfly. Such beautiful music and words and its power is magnified because we know how sadly the story ends.

Take care,
One fine, clear day, we shall see
a thin trail of smoke arising,
on the distant horizon, far out to sea.
And then the ship appears.
Then the white ship
enters into the harbour,
and thunders out it's greeting.

You see? He has come!
I'll not go down to meet him. Not I.
I shall stay on the hillside and wait,
and wait for a long time,
and I'll not grow weary
of the long wait.

Emerging from the city crowds,
a man is coming, a tiny speck
starts to climb the hill.
Who is he? Who?
And when he arrives.
What will he say? What will he say?
He will call "Butterfly" from the distance.
I, without answering,
will remain hidden.
A little to tease him
and a little so as not to die,
at our first meeting;
and then rather worried
he will call, he will call:
"My little one, my tiny wife,
The names he gave me when he came last.

All this will happen,
I promise you.
Keep your fears to yourself,
I, with faithful trust will wait for him.


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