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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Well, Puccini, I’ll be sleeping tonight

Believe me, I’m not an expert. I have no technical knowledge of music and I can’t play an instrument. My interest in opera sadly doesn’t go much further than adoring the wacky stories and soaring music. But so far—much like a dog on a car trip oblivious to the ultimate destination--the excitement and drama in the moment of the live performance has been enough to draw me back again and again.

There’s something about opera that makes everyday life seem grander, isn’t there? Why just introduce yourself as the deposed King of Tartary in a few plain words, when you can sing about it for half an act? Why get a job to buy firewood when you can die dramatically of consumption in your lover’s arms? Prostitutes and valets sing songs just as beautiful as those sung by the viscounts and baronesses.

I had heard a while ago that a cinema here in Rennes showed live, HD transmissions of Met performances. And then a few days ago I saw that they were showing Turandot this weekend. Despite being one of Puccini’s more widely criticized pieces, I’ve always wanted to see Turandot. I don’t know why exactly; if it’s the take-no-sass heroine, the fact that this opera has one of THE GREATEST tenor arias in the history of lyric theater ever (seriously, if it doesn’t make you a little teary-eyed every time you hear it, you have no soul), or the hilarity of the subtle racism that results from casting a bunch of whities in a story set in Peking.

Whatever the exact reason, I needed to see this opera. I just had to see the Chinese princess, so icy and immovable, up there on her throne, coldly sentencing her suitors to death. By Saturday afternoon, I was buzzing around, humming a cheap, amateur’s version of Nessun dorma. I had to see the part where the last suitor answers Turandot’s 3 riddles…ah! How will it end!?! Maybe this time Turandot will hate the prince and have him killed too? Maybe the prince will actually realize that Turandot is not a lovely, young Chinese vixen but instead a buxom, 40-year-old émigré from Austria!? Maybe not! That eye make-up is thick!

Oh, most tragic of all! I did not get to see the ending. I didn’t even make it to Nessun dorma (first scene of act 3). The transmission all through the first Act was patchy and distracting. And by the time the first intermission came around, enough people had left to complain that the manager of the cinema came in to stop the transmission and start talking about reimbursements. I shot a woeful glance to the woman next to me, who said that in all the performances she had been to, that had never happened before. Apparently, all the venues showing that performance last night were having trouble with the signal. My options now are to get my money back, or go back next week and see the recorded version. Oh spite! How cutting! Quelle grande deception.

For the moment, I’m feeding my unrequited desire of seeing people flinging themselves dramatically around stage, by watching YouTubed versions of Pavarotti’s Nessun dorma, and prowling the websites of various European opera houses. It might take La Scala to satisfy me now.
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