Noilly Prattle: “Bravo” free evening

Thursday, March 8, 2012

“Bravo” free evening

The Queen's aria O Zittre Nicht as it should be done

I am humbled. I've been singing the praises of non-mainstream opera “shows” compared to those of “top tier” houses, but the bubble has popped. I am no longer batting 1000; i.e., consistently better than average to wonderful performances in the “minor leagues” of the opera world. But, I was also reminded that with familiarity can come a kind of contempt, of taking things for granted, of being overly critical. Here's what happened.

We met a new friend (that my road buddy had met a couple days ago) at the Estates Theater here in Prague. We had a box that still had an empty seat and the lady bought it and met us at the theater. It was my first time meeting her. She was new to the opera world and we all talked about The Magic Flute that we were about to see. Soon enough, the performance began.

The orchestra seemed off somehow, not quite Mozart it seemed to me. One expects a livelier, more enthusiastic upbeat overture, but this one seemed a little, I don't know, tired. So, my critical filters started to go up and without going into detail the singers didn't seem to have that spirit that I associate with Mozart's operas. I rarely find Mozart tedious, but this production seemed to drag here and there. The singers made an effort, but just weren't up to it, I thought. The arias lacked brio and the comedy aspect of The Magic Flute seemed to be relatively lacking. For example, the Queen of the Night's first aria lacked the power and guile that it needs to be effective. Der Hölle Rache was better, but still missed the driving anger and hatred that drives the Queen. The other principles also lacked the divine spark, sadly. The best performances were by the Queens three ladies. Their voices blended well and their acting timing was right on the beat.

At the intermission road buddy and I started dissecting the first act, oblivious to our new friend. She said that she had had a hard time following the story and asked us what we thought. We sheepishly blushed and murmured something like don't-mind-us-we're-too-jaded. So, I went for a pee and let the ladies discuss the story in Japanese.

After the bravo-free [on my part] performance, (and I had been hooting enthusiastically at all the previous performances we have attended), our new friend had had a revelation. It was her first opera and she had enjoyed it. Suddenly, she exclaimed: “Why, it's a show!” and continued to say how it wasn't just stuffy music, but included acting and dancing and comedy as well—a “show”. Humbled, we could only respond with equal enthusiasm, that yes, absolutely, she was quite right. It was theater.

But, not every performance is a great one. Sad to say. But, hell, this is the real world. And, overall, dollar for dollar or krona for krona or euro for euro, I still think the “minor leagues” have it all over the brand name houses of international repute (sometimes ill, in my opinion). Like it or not, when you've seen and heard enough of them, your critical faculty becomes sharpened and you can't help comparing a performance with others you've heard. As a modest example (modest, right!), I linked above to the Queen's first aria, O Zittre Nicht, by Diana Damrau. Exquisite!

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