The Theory of Chaos

Thursday, September 14, 2006

I declare: all theatrical productions should end with 8-foot tall skeleton kings

Gone to the opera. Back late.

48 hours ago I would not have predicted ever needing to leave such a note. I’m not opposed to opera, but I’ve never taken in a complete one live and wasn’t sure how I’d react. I don’t doubt my butt endurance – I once watched the 220-minute no-intermission director’s cut of
The Last Emperor at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. In a broken chair. My lower back sure let me know how it felt about that later.

My concern has always been more in the area of connection – could I
access the damned thing? Since opera tends to be expensive, I’ve yet to make the gamble in order to find out.

But then I got a call from The Voluptuous Geek. Her husband is singing in a new production of Verdi’s
Don Carlo at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the swank old downtown LA cavern of culture where they used to hold the Academy Awards. She had two free tickets on short notice and asked if I’d like to escort her.

Being more of a Hollywood/Damnable Hipsters/Soju cocktail menu animal, the Downtown/Chamber of Commerce/Circle of Donors world is sort of alien to me, although I am no stranger to paying $6 for a cold pre-packaged sandwich. The captive audience food markup needs no introduction. Walking around that world for a night sounded fun. Seeing my first opera sounded fun. And taking out The Voluptuous Geek is always fun.

Don Carlo is a historical spectacle about the son of the recently-crowned King of Spain. He falls desperately in love with a French Princess, only to lose her when King Dad chooses her for a marriage of diplomatic advantage. So the love of his life becomes Mom, really the last person you should be slipping salacious notes to. Plus you’ve got Carlo’s best friend Rodrigo encouraging the Prince to join the uprising against the oppression of his people in Flanders, a bit of general rabble-rousing that’s also not going to make the King happy. Oh, and there’s a little thing happening in the background called “The Inquisition”, which you may have heard of. Typically, the bodies are littering the stage by the end.

This was a damned fine production. The set was tall arches under high walls that had paintings of bloody deeds splashed across them. Set at a strong diagonal to the proscenium, the arches could be shifted back and forth across their axis like puzzle pieces to change the shape of the playing space and channel the light for a sort of real-life chiaroscuro effect. Gorgeous stuff. And for what was essentially a flat playing space, the director showed remarkable versatility in creating layered tableaus when the Chorus (including the Voluptuous Geek’s husband) spilled onto the stage. Prisons, tombs, menacing monks and self-flagellating fanatics – it’s a good night out.

I felt absolutely relieved when I shared my reactions and was borne out by the people who, well, actually knew what they were talking about. Yes, the Princess did act beautifully but seemed to be holding back vocally. Yes, the Grand Inquisitor did cut a terrifying corpse-like figure and shudder our souls with his thundering bass. And above all, yes, Dolora Zajick (playing a Spanish Princess who gets the wrong idea and two show-stopping feature numbers to talk about it) has a miracle of a voice. My arms were tired from clapping at the end.

Opera is a means to express big feelings at maximum volume, and it worked on me. If they can make you believe in the depth of agony that resides in being scorned in love, or in being willing to lay down your life for a friend, or in being torn between lust and fear, then everything – the spectacle and the fifty-pound costumes and the storming orchestra and the wailing way the mezzo-soprano hits
that one note unifies and sweeps right over you. Or, in the words of The Voluptuous Geek’s Husband, “rocks your face off”.

Monkeygirl and I have an understanding about what we refer to as “the understudy boyfriend/girlfriend”. This is a friend of the opposite sex whom you enjoy one-on-one company with, and on occasions where your legitimate partner is not available you more often than not end up hanging out with them instead. And while it’s strictly Platonic good times, in another variant of the fickle quantum probabilities of the universe you would totally hit that.

We each have one, although I don’t think either knows they’ve been honored with the designation. After I got the invite to the opera, I called Monkeygirl up and said “
I think I just became someone’s understudy boyfriend.” And if it gets me into events like this, I am on board for that.


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