Saturday, May 6, 2017

A Night at the Opera

Last night was the first opera I am going to see on this trip. It was a production at the Teatro Real of Alberto Ginastera's 1967 opera Bomarzo. Have a look at the Wikipedia link for some information on the opera, which was not allowed to be performed in Argentina until 1972 due to censorship by the government. The program for the production has a couple of useful essays discussing the opera, which I will refer to and translate some parts of.

The Teatro Real in Madrid next year will celebrate its 200th anniversary, which makes it 49 years older than Canada! It was founded by King Ferdinand VII in 1818, built just across from the Royal Palace on the other side of the Plaza Oriente. The Royal crest is seen above the proscenium arch:

Here is a photo of the orchestra pit just before the performance. As you can see, a first violin, a violist, a cellist, the mandolin player and a percussionist (barely visible) are practicing. The other players already know their parts (just kidding).

Click to enlarge

There is a pretty spectacular chandelier in the hall, about 20 feet across:

And here is a look at some of the seats:

These photos were taken from my seat, which was pretty good. I was in the front of the 3rd balcony and could see all the stage really well.

Attending an opera here is a very civilized experience. During the 25 minute intermission, you can buy a drink and a snack at pretty reasonable prices. 4 Euros for a glass of Spanish cava isn't too bad. The multi-level lobby has a big oval counter you can set your food on:

I said multi-level:

So much for the concert experience! I will do a detailed post on the opera tomorrow as I need to translate some stuff from the booklet. In the meantime, some first impressions. This is a long, long, opera. Not by Wagnerian standards, but still--the first act (of two) is an hour and 45 minutes and the second act about an hour. Including intermission, you are there for over three hours. The piece is very much in the avant-garde language of the 60s with a lot of extreme dynamics, crescendos, textures and an atonal harmonic and melodic palette. Now there is nothing wrong with that, if well done. Certainly this piece does not sound dated the way a lot of others do. But there are certain features of the style, certain melodic and rhythmic gestures that are common to so many pieces of the era that their effect, at this point in time, is rather diluted.

The production was spectacular. From time to time bars of light would descend, move around, block out sections of the stage, become horizontal or vertical, change color and frame the stage in different ways. It was a fascinating effect and I have no idea how it was accomplished--nor, really, what it specifically meant. The stage had three areas, front to back. Certain things happened right on the front apron, most things in the middle and some at the back. From time to time a large rocky hill, the width of the stage, would move from the back to the middle and be used for various entrances and exits. Nearer the front, three sections of stage about two meters deep spanned the whole of the stage and could be lowered or raised about six feet. Also used for entrances and exits and for various characters to drape themselves on.

The singers did an excellent job, I thought. It is not easy being an opera singer these days. Apart from spending ten or fifteen years simply mastering vocal technique (if you can), then you have to act, wear costumes and, in contemporary productions, a bit more. One singer (Damián del Castillo, I think) had to sing one aria entirely naked. And yes, I mean entirely! Others had to sing while being sexually molested at length or while draped in translucent cloth. But I really couldn't say that anything in the production was gratuitous as it all seemed to suit the idea of the opera. There were usually two, three or more different things going on simultaneously, but it all seemed to work out well.

The bottom line for me was that it was a very successful production, though the opera itself might benefit from a bit of trimming. Tomorrow I will dig into what is going on in the music and libretto.

Until then, here is the first part of a 2007 Italian production:


Marc Puckett said...

Glad you were able to see this! am quite jealous. :-) The title of the earliest review of the Teatro Real production at Opera Critic captures something, perhaps-- "teatro más que ópera" (Gonzalo Alonso at Beckmesser)-- haven't read it, so I don't know quite what he's going on about (and obviously at the one level it is opera) but your comment ("a very successful production") made me think of it.

Bryan Townsend said...

I purposely haven't looked at any reviews, but once I have put up my post tomorrow, I will seek that one out. I said "successful production" because I am just so impressed with the production values: brilliant, creative and quite new for me. The music element is what I am familiar with so it is everything else that catches my attention.

Will Wilkin said...

Thanks for showing me the opera hall, I hope to tour many of them in real life someday!

We were BOTH at the opera Friday night (allowing for the time zone difference between Connecticut & Spain). I heard 2 1-act operas: William Walton's "The Bear" and Darius Milhaus' "Le Pauvre Matelot." My 17 yo son had his very first date that night, he took her to her first opera (he's seen 30+ with me). I chaperoned. Great singing, music by solo piano, it was the Yale Opera and the student singers are always superb! Great visual/lighting/projection effects too. She said she liked them both. The music was much more accessible than the "Bomarzo" you saw!

Bryan Townsend said...

Very cool. I don't think you were reading the blog last year, when I attended a performance of Schoenberg's opera Moses und Aron? In any case, here was the post. I put it up mainly because it has photos of the outside of the hall.

Yes, I think you got the better deal Friday!

Will Wilkin said...

Thanks Bryan, those pics of the Teatro Real are fine! I commented on the Schoenberg article underneath that article.