Let me begin by saying the extent of theatrical knowledge I’ve acquired does not travel past the production of Peter Pan I was in as a young’un (I was “Pirate no. 3”, look it up) and the thousand times my mom made me watch Les Miserables with her. However, I believe it may benefit some to hear what the opera is like for people who aren’t fanatics.
On Sunday, January 24th I sat in the fourth row of the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall in the Seattle Center, courtesy of my creative writing class, as I discovered how gigantic of a production the opera actually is. The McCaw performance hall is one of the most impressive and positively overwhelming rooms I’ve ever stepped foot in. I was almost disappointed when the lights faded, signaling the start of the show, for I enjoyed looking at the structure of the auditorium so much.
But the show began, as they usually do. The lights dimmed, applause filled the space, and music broke the anticipation. And what music it was. This overture that introduced the entire production is the music that allows me to forget who I am, and become one with the setting. For an orchestra that was stationed underground, the score came through perfectly loud and full, as the strings, horns, winds, and percussion all collided and pirouetted to animate the notes Wolfgang Mozart had scribed so long ago. It sounded so familiar, yet completely unique to my system.
After about five minutes of music, the cast of the Seattle Opera made their first appearance. Figaro (played by Aubrey Allicock) enters, soon followed by his lovely bride-to-be, Susanna (Laura Tatulescu). These two servants in love are to be married that day by their master, Count Almaviva. However, conflict arises when the Count decides he wants to cash in on his feudal right to have the first crack at relations with Susanna on her wedding night. The plot continues with Figaro’s livid scheming to prevent this, along with Susanna’s cooperation with the Count’s wife to catch him in the act.
In opera, the actors sing in Italian, and the English translation is presented on a screen high above the stage for all of the uncultured monolingual peasants (like myself) to understand the script. This is a suitable system, but my only grievance lies in the fact that I missed some of the acting due to the constant flipping of my neck to catch the words. It was completely worth it though; the dialogue between the characters is incredibly witty.
This experience also provided me with a newfound respect and admiration for operatic singers. Prior to Sunday, I did not realize the fundamental difference between opera and musical theater (aside from the Italian language): opera singers don’t use microphones. They have the ability to project their vibrato-lathered voices up and over an entire orchestra and all the way to the back of possibly the largest auditorium I have ever been inside of. Without a microphone. No headset, no nothing. It’s astonishing.
The standout singers for me were The Countess, played by Caitlin Lynch, who delivered several heart-wrenching solo performances, as well as Cherubino. This soprano part is played by Elizabeth Pojanowski, who offers a sense of comedic relief when her character, a young man in love with every woman he sees (particularly the Countess), conducts long vocal phrases filled with the most gooey sentimentality that the 18th Century could offer.
The plot itself is magnificently original, and although it exposes the faults in the middle-aged marital system, traverses time to accommodate all situations in the past and present where society needs to see the servant beat the master. Despite the comedy, despite the beauty, and despite the theatrics – this opera is, at its core, a story about an oppressed couple of servants who outsmart the upper class to hinder its schemes of greed and lust for more power. The relevance of this story is way too apparent in modern-day society not to notice, and has been since the time of its conception.
If you’re in the mood for it, here is Mozart’s work in action:
This is the orchestral introduction to the opera, and I (anything but a connoisseur) find it breathe-taking.
This is my overall suggestion.
If you have the opportunity to see this opera, take it. It’s a diverse and distinctive cultural experience that I am beyond glad to have attained. There are performances up until January 30th, and you can get tickets here.
The talent of the Seattle Opera’s actors, singers, and musicians is unlike anything I have gotten to witness before. To them, I say Bravo. Because that is what people say at the opera.
JASON McCUE | Phantom of the Pasta | KXSU Reporter