Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Nights at the Opera

I’m in danger of getting cultured, wot with two operas in three weeks.

On Saturday my uncle took me to “Orpheus in the Underworld” - a real romp in the full-blooded tradition of the promiscuous Greek gods.

The chorus was certainly a scantily clad group of shepherds and shepherdesses - and their costumes only got all the more scanty in Hell. I suppose it’s hot in Hell, but I would’ve thought that would make all that leather impractical. I wonder what the blue-rinse, Opera Australia set made of the Magistrates of Hell stripping off judicial robes to dance across the stage in horse-hair wigs, leather straps, French lace, stocking belts and high-heels. (The little prosthetic penis on one of their outfits may also have sent pacemakers a-flutter, along with the good-natured bump and grind of simulated sex during the bacchanal.)

The libretto was re-written for raciness and local flavour and sung in English with surtitles, which seems redundant but was surprisingly handy. Anyway, it was raunchy, rude, extravagantly costumed, and thoroughly entertaining.

I saw “Carmen” some weeks ago, that accessible stand-by of Opera (ie, the only one I know from a bar of soap). The music and singing were fine, but everything else creaked. It had one of those fashionable Transformer sets which reconfigures for each Act. Unfortunately, the tobacco factory of Act I had external iron staircases, which all got parked stage right in Act II - making the bar’s exterior seem more ”Guys and Doll’s” fire-escapes than Seville, even if it was Seville during the Spanish Civil War.

Also, I’m all for multi-ethnic casting, but when Don Jose is a tiny Chinese guy who has to overpower a 6 foot, 100 kilo Toreador in the Act III knife fight, it’s hard to swallow. (Going all kung fu on his ass would have been more credible.) And any chemistry between Don Jose and Carmen would’ve helped to, you know, make the plot credible. Any production that leaves you grasping for reasons why a sensible soldier chucks in his career for a pretty tepid-blooded gipsy makes you realise the importance of having an opera cast that can act and sing.

Not that acting was at a premium in “Orpheus”: it required all the depth of character of Gilbert and Sullivan. Not that I recall G&S having Satyrs with ten inch red horns. Admittedly, Satyrs with ten inch red horns is nothing startling, it’s just when they sprout from the groin rather than the head and the odd nymph takes to stroking them that you think Mr Gilbert might have had reservations. (Not sure he would have approved a staging in which Jupiter goes down on Eurydice in a bath either.)

All jolly good fun. The ten and twelve year-olds in my row seemed to like it too.

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