Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Night at the Opera (51/100)

Your correspondents (finally) went to the opera. Many of the classical performing arts are still alive and well in Riga, with a fairly vibrant theater scene and a full slate of opera, symphony, and ballet at the National Opera theater each season. We didn't make it last year, which was kind of silly because it's pretty cheap compared to what you would pay for similar quality in the States. So thank you to the Latvian taxpayers who fund their Ministry of Culture!

We saw Carmen, which was good in that my main problem in enjoying opera is that I don't know the music and it never seems to have recognizable hooks like pop music does. The song just wanders wherever it wants and ends on a high note to convey the character is happy or a low note if the character is sad. I'm sure there is some extremely refined songwriting going on, but it isn't obvious to me. Luckily, Carmen actually has not one, not two, but three Greatest Hits that non-opera fans may already know from Bugs Bunny cartoons or the music that plays when you win at Tetris.

This particular production put a twist on the classic Spanish bullfighter story, re-setting the story in Cuba, with the Toreador as a boxer (fighting an opponent nicknamed "The Bull"). It was fun, and the sets and costumes were mostly great -- which is key for opera since the music is usually boring so you need something crazy to look at. The only problem, however, was that in a move presumably -- and questionably -- intended to increase the realism of the scenes, they attempted to make the mostly-Latvian cast "look Cuban" or something. For most of the adults, this involved colorful costumes and silly wigs, which I think is standard for the genre. For the chorus of schoolchildren, however, they decided that additional makeup was necessary. As a result, at a couple times in the production a troupe of Cuban communist youths would arrive with crazy mullets, beaming blue eyes, and pasty depths-of-winter skin turned bright orange with spray-on tan. The extent to which this helped the audience immerse themselves in the lives and loves of the Cuban working class was perhaps questionable.

In any case, no photography was allowed during the show, so see above photo pointing back up at the balconies behind us.

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