Monday, June 22, 2009

An Opera Adventure: Carmen

Once upon a time…
There was an opera by Bizet, Carmen, set for the opening night of Verona, Italy’s 87th season. It was a special night because Placido Domingo was conducting the orchestra.

It was also special because friends from California were visiting with me, and we had arranged to go to the opera together. This would be their first opera experience. We purposely chose to purchase seats whereby we would be able to sit on the ancient steps of the Roman arena. Imagine, sitting on a structure that was commenced its construction in and around 50 A.D. It is mind-boggling. The history simply seeps through the stone seats as you sit there. Here you can see the arena as it fills with people.

So, meet Carol (Caroline) and Carl (Carlo), friends from San Diego. We arrived early to get a better choice of seats, and we brought wine along to celebrate our adventure.

And then… (poi, in Italian)

We watched the arena fill with people from all over the world. Using binoculars, we were able to see all the gorgeous gowns of the women beneath us. There was one in particular that caught my eye. It was an off-white satin, in the style of the 1930’s, featuring beautiful drape, bias cut, and a figure-hugging silhouette. The woman was stunning. Here you see the dress of a young opera fan. She was lovely.

The opera began. The lights went down, and Placido Domingo came to the conductor’s stand to receive an amazingly warm welcome from the Italians. If you look below, you can see him in the white jacket. (sorry about the photo, it was dark)

The curtains were quite unique, a series of cloth structures on poles. To open the curtains, various men came and lifted the poles and walked the curtains, in sections off the stage. It was all part of the exciting moment about to unfold.

The overture began, and the stage was filled with people. We witnessed life in the streets of Seville, Spain. There are peasants, gypsies, soldiers, and the women who work in the tobacco factory. There are also children who run around and perform a song where they mimic the soldiers. At one point, Carl counted around 200 people on stage. There were various “scenarios” unfolding themselves simultaneously in different parts of the stage. You could watch the gypsies dancing, the soldier’s talking, the children playing, and various other vignets.

Soon, we get to meet the mesmerizing gypsy Carmen, and she lives up to her reputation, as a woman no man cannot fall in love with. Yet, she is a vamp. She knows her charm and power. She tells the men in song that “ love obeys no known laws”. She throws a flower at the one man who pays no attention to her, Don José, and of course, he falls under her spell. As the scene progresses, Carmen is to be taken to jail, and Don José is given the task of taking her there. Under her spell, he unties her, and she runs away. Don José is arrested. And so, ends the first act. Now, I must say, that near the end of the act, lightening and thunder has been threatening.

Intermission. People stood and stretched. Some went out for a glass of wine or a cup of gelato. Others remained in their seats, anxiously waiting to follow the life of Carmen.

The second act commences. We open to a scene where Carmen and her friends are entertaining the soldiers. We are only a few minutes into the act….

It begins to rain. It was almost an act in slow motion. We watched a wave go through the crowd, starting at the other side of the arena, and moving in our direction. (imagine “the wave” as we know in our sports events). Carl, Carol, and I look at each other and we wonder what the general procedure is. People seem to be putting up their umbrellas, and waiting to see how long it lasts, and so we follow suit.

The rain begins to come down harder. Now, some people are starting to leave. We still wonder what to do, but we decide to sit there and wait a bit longer. So, at this point, I will let you in on a bit of my “stupido”, not being familiar with the workings of Roman arenas. I ask you, if you are sitting on stone steps, and it begins to rain, and rain, and then rains some more… where do you suppose the water from the steps above you goes? You have it. Yes, all of a sudden, we were greeted by a wave of water that was working its way down the steps, and we were drenched. Even with umbrellas in place. So, begins the rush for cover.

We get in queue for the exit. When we finally get to the first part of the exit, and shuffle with the crowd down some pretty steep steps. All I could do was laugh, as even if we weren’t sure if the opera would continue, this was certainly an experience I had never had before. The ushers were standing up high, singing to the crowd and urging them to move ahead so others could get into the shelter afforded by the thick roman walls in the bowels of the arena. I was still in awe of the building.

We waited with the many others for about 15 minutes to see if the rain would stop. It did not, and eventually, Carmen was officially cancelled. All we could do was look at each other, laugh at how completely wet we were, and begin our walk home. That in itself was an adventure, as we met many interesting fashion statements... such as the latest in black plastic dresses (on young women from Atlanta, Georgia), and in footwear (on a beautiful Italian woman). I kept thinking of the woman in the beautiful silk dress. How did she fare? Not well, I presume. My guess is the dry cleaning establishments in Verona would see a boost the next week.

Thus ends the story of Caroline’s and Carlo’s first opera. (although, we abated our disappointment with Tiramisu and Café on the way home).


harmonicana said...
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harmonicana said...

I hear ya. In the summer of I think it was 1997, I was at a Nabucco in the arena, when it started raining, then pouring, then on to a lightning spell so bad it looked like *daytime* for an instant.
We only got through the first act. Once the people involved realized the production couldn't go on, they had the choir go on and sing the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves and then bid us adieu. I was wondering if some such happened for your Carmen experience or if they just, figuratively, pulled the plug?

We went home soaking wet, not having bought the funny raincoats they were selling on site. :) Still, wouldn't trade that experience or the 5 other operas I did manage to see in full in that wonderful place...

SusanLazear said...

You are right.. there are times when a misadventure becomes the best adventure.

For me, it is akin to making a mistake when designing, and having that mistake lead you down a more creative path.