Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Halloween at the Opera

"So, what did you do for Halloween?" I've been asked that about a million times this week. "I went to the opera," I'd say. Probably not a very typical thing to do on Halloween, huh? But that just happened to be the night our season tickets fell. So I got dressed up (nicely, of course) and drove my friend to the opera house.

"What did you think?" That's probably the second-most popular follow-up question to the what-did-you-do-I-went-to-the-opera discussion. And since you've all asked, I'll give it to you straight.

That's what I thought. In other words, I wasn't bowled over. Don't get me wrong, the new opera house is lovely - even unfinished (they clearly were not ready for an October opening as many things were still in various states of almost-finished). Overall, it has a timeless - yet contemporary - design. Are there elements that will become dated rather quickly? Yep. The biggest being those crazy lights in the walls illuminating the name of the house and what floor you're on. The interior house itself is lovely and quite timeless tho. It reminded me very much of the European opera houses I've been in - like the one in Vienna, for instance. The center chandelier was particularly cool, though I must admit that my first thought was "you have to be kidding, that chandelier is totally blocking my view!" And then as the lights dim, the chandelier disappears into the ceiling - very slick!

The acoustics are fantastic. Such a dramatic difference from Fair Park. This is the house of every singer's dreams. Not too deep, not too shallow. Perfectly designed for both dialogue and song. This fantastic design is going to be a problem for a persistently overpowering orchestra, however. Did they play with sensitivity? Absolutely. Could we appreciate that better in this space? Absolutely. Do they still forget that it's not about them? Absolutely. Except that it's even more pronounced in this space than in Fair Park. At one point, the orchestra overpowered more than 100 people singing onstage. I would not have thought that possible in this space, and it is something they are going to have to pay particular attention to in future productions!

As for the singing, Cassio stole the show. He, by far, was the best singer in the cast. Such a beautiful lyric tenor with a terrific character, to boot. I felt like Iago overplayed his character, and that was very distracting and distorted his sound in several places. Otello was excellent. Most of my problems with his character were beyond his control, i.e. make-up, staging, etc. Desdemona was the biggest disappointment. She sang almost the entire show with a dark and swallowed sound, and this made her high notes forced and distorted. I don't think this was her natural singing voice b/c we would catch glimpses of a shimmery soprano every once in a while. And I would think, "ah, there's the sound." And it would be swallowed up by the whale just as quickly. Her shining moment was in the final act just before her death when she sang her prayers and the willow song. If only we could have heard that voice the entire opera - that, my friends, was some breath-taking singing!

All in all, the opera was spoiled for me by the lighting and staging. I understand that most of the action takes place in the dark. So let's get that point made and out of the way. What I don't understand is why you make pockets of light on the stage and then put your singers out of them - in the dark. Consistently. Had it been once in a while, I would have assumed that the singer missed their mark onstage. But the consistency led me to believe this was intentional. And what a shame. Altogether the staging was just dreadful. And it showed in the acting. Clearly, the singers were not comfortable with the staging. Their interactions were awkward, and they overemoted to compensate which made some scenes even more awkward. It was obvious that they were forcing themselves to remain on their marks to deliver their passages, forcing themselves not to look at the person to whom they should have been speaking. And we ended up with several park-n-bark sessions that could have been so much more dramatic had the singers been able to move about the stage more naturally. Instead, we had movement from mark to mark with no rhyme or reason to the onstage flow of the action.

So, while the new house is quite lovely and certainly exciting from an acoustic standpoint and in the possibilities that lie ahead in future programming, the first performance was more than underwhelming.

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