Monday, August 11, 2014

Second Monday Music: An amateur opera

No, the reviewer, not the opera!

By Chuck Smythe

[Editor's Note: Chuck did say in his most recent character update: “Want an amateur opera review?”]

I recently attended a performance of The Marriage of Figaro at Colorado’s Central City Opera. This was, if I recall rightly, only about the eighth opera I’ve ever attended. I hope you will be entertained by the impressions of a neophyte. The location alone makes this an Experience. Central City was one of the richest of Colorado’s gold rush towns.
    Despite being built in a steep, narrow canyon with no building sites to speak of, the town aspired to be the state capital, and used its temporary wealth to bring Culture to the remote Rockies. One of the more implausible features was a Grand Opera [grand opening 1878], shoehorned into a small theater downtown. Even more implausibly, it is still in operation, running a very high-quality summer series.
    By the time I arrived in the 1960’s, the surrounding town was a collection of Victorian gingerbread houses strewn up and down the hillsides among the mine tailings and ore mills, moldering quietly into life as a low-rent tourist attraction. Then came gambling, and now the hillsides are being heavily engineered to support massive casinos, and the streets are full of the usual sad addicts.
    And the Opera soldiers on! Immediately next door is the Teller House, a former luxury hotel now featuring a tony restaurant and the bar with “The Face on the Barroom Floor.”

    We had a hasty and crowded, but rather good lunch before being summoned by gentlemen with bells, top hats, and white gloves. We ascended an unnervingly steep stair to the balcony, and were shown to padded nineteenth century chairs high above the little stage, where I marveled yet again that a whole opera could be fitted there.
[photo 1934; click to enlarge]
    The Marriage of Figaro has been transported from eighteenth century Seville to Seville, 1920. Why? “Because it was deeply conservative and religious, in conflict with a dynamic progressive movement...,” Well, what of the original setting? Oh well....
    The opera is a sequel to The Barber of Seville, with Count Almaviva become an aging lecher. There was some controversy about it. A previous opera on the same story by Beaumarchais had been banned from Vienna, ostensibly for licentiousness (yes indeed!) but in fact probably because it featured the Count being treated – er – disrespectfully by the hired help. As the Empire was only somewhat less conservative than that of Kublai Kahn, this was not Mozart took the precaution of having the Emperor approve the libretto before he wrote a note.
    The point is the music, of course, and this was Mozart. I suspect that opera was really what he did best and enjoyed most. In any case, the score was Mozart at his very best, one of the most enjoyable musical evenings I’ve ever had. The singers included Michael Sumuel as Figaro, Anna Christy as Suzanna, Edward Parks as the Count, Sinead Mulhern as the Countess. All voices and acting far better than I would dare to critique. A curiosity is that Cherubino, the horny page boy, is done as a trouser role by Tamera Gura – who sounds not like a teenage boy, but like a Woman. If possible, a slightly more childish voice might have been more convincing.
    The plot was utterly silly, a maze of plots by people striving to get in each other’s pants, all plots going wrong in the most absurd ways, leading to the final moment when the Count tries to seduce his wife, disguised as the bride. You don’t really want to know. As I said, the help is highly disrespectful of the Count, occasionally to his face. Since Mozart’s core voters were mostly members of that class, it was a bit daring.
    Well, enough said. Great music, a great evening cruise down twisty roads back to the city.

Copyright © 2014 by Chuck Smythe

1 comment:

  1. Grand opera in the steep mountains of Colorado - Mozart, no less? Yes, as Chuck Smythe reports....Thank you, Chuck!