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Monday, October 25, 2004

A Night at the Opera 

The opera du jour at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre was Der Rosenkavalier, a nice, amusing 270-minute comic opera in German. Richard Strauss, written in 1911, but set (with anachronisms) in 18th century Vienna.

The Lovely One wanted to go, and a 2-fer coupon got us there. Because of the terms of the coupon, we had to buy tickets on the day of the show (Thursday), and so we got nice seats, but not quite together. We sat one in front of the other, on the far left of the theatre (we were both literally against the wall), but quite close to the stage.

It was pretty good. I didn't fall asleep much, which is, cretinously, my default mode in operas. The plot is fairly funny, and much less stupid than average opera plots, which tend to be either very, very stupid, or else they are Coughing Operas, that lovely sub-genre in which a main character gets tuberculosis. You think I'm joking? La Boheme, La Traviata, The Tales of Hoffmann. Add in the modern remakes (Rent) or the other disease operas (Parsifal and many more), and it's pretty clear that getting a disease was just about the most resonant thing you could present to an opera crowd, aside from sex and death.

I read the plot synopsis before curtain time, but didn't get a chance to look over the cast bios, which led me into a little surprise in the first act. The first act starts with young Octavian, the "Rose bearer" of the title (basically a courier bearing a silver rose, the symbol of an offer of marriage) in bed with his lover Marschallin, the wife of an army officer.

As I sat watching their little duet, a few thoughts ran through my head: Octavian looks rather androgynous...can a tenor sing that high?

Ahem. Octavian was played by the lovely and talented Beth Clayton, a soprano, just as the role calls for. The opera is notably soprano-heavy: the love triangle that is key to the story is played by three of them. Strauss has some fun with the character of Octavian, since Octavian spends a considerable amount of stage time in drag for one reason or another, and in drag Octavian is pursued by the lecherous and boorish Ochs, who is also proposing to Sophie, the pretty young thing who falls for Octavian at first sight (and vice versa).

On the drive home, I spoke about how I had enjoyed the music, and how the opera plot wasn't completely stupid, and such. Eventually, TLO asked me if I had enjoyed the lesbian action in Act I.

The music was really nice. This particular production was done well. But this is probably not a great bet for a first opera. You'll have to ask TLO for advice on that front, though I did enjoy Mozart's The Magic Flute, which has dragons, drunkenness, talking parrot-people, and secret Masonic symbology. You could do worse.

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