Wednesday, March 10, 2010

View from the Front Row

"I just wanted to warn you. We'll be sitting in the front row this time." My wife's peculiar tone made me suspicious.
"I just wanted you to know."
"So, everybody in the opera house will be able to see you."
What on earth was she thinking? That I would jump up and start a bump-and-grind number or something. Slightly offended, I tried to remember if I had actually done anything to warrant her warning. Nothing immediately came to mind but I wasn't sure.
Sitting in the first row of any large scale public entertainment has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, the circus. Despite the advantage of being so close to tigers that you can smell what they had for lunch, it is also quite possible to wind up with a face full of monkey poo if primate cooperation fails. (Need I say this would fall under the disadvantage category?)

I recall the only memorable time I sat in the front row of a live show. It was at an ice show at King's Island- a small amusement/entertainment area outside of Cincinnati. Everything was certainly in your face, all the choreography, the extravagant sets and the campy costumed skaters. It was all quite dazzling. The numbers involved quite complicated maneuvers and tight patterns on a relatively small stage. Everything was going fine until I heard one of the sequined skater dart past and hiss, under his breath, "Oh, shit."

Somehow the synchronization was off and skaters coming in from the left were barely able to clear skaters that came in front the right. There was a bit of unsteady jostling, barely noticeable from a distance. At that second, a wave of shaved ice was flung in our faces. We all reared back in our seats, in fear that at any moment, one of the hapless skaters would come flying off the stage, landing in our laps and parting our scalps with a blade of his skates. A close call, to be sure, and an unlikely thing to expect from most operas. On that point, I could probably relax.

And relax I did. The opera house seats were quite comfortable and, being in the first row allowed a great deal of extra leg room. The coolness of outdoors followed by the agreeable warmth of the opera house, that quick meal from the corner donerci, the cozy darkness, the pleasant serenade of the orchestra, all conspired to make me listless and drowsy.
And so the opera, "Adrienne Lecouvreur"  began. The curtains parted upon a scene of a few people making what I took to be a hotel room ready. I was disappointed by the minimalist set because, as far as theater is concerned,  I am one who craves pageantry and ostentation.

Over the top of the stage is a large LED sign that displays the Turkish translation, but I couldn't be bothered to try to keep up with it. If I had sat further back, perhaps I might have tried but at this angle, I had a choice of watching the actions and expressions or reading the dialogs. And probably I wouldn't have made heads or tails of the Turkish, in any case.
The story seemed to be about a nasty spat between two rather matronly women, the woman in the champagne-colored gown was undoubtedly the heroine and the other in blue played the villainess. That much

I was certain of but I stayed confused throughout who exactly was the beau of which woman and perhaps that's where the feud arose from. Jealousy. Where would opera be without it?
At one point there was an engaging party scene in which the stage was filled with extras. They came floating like ghosts down the steps, quite close to our group. If I had wanted to, I could have stood up and joined them- and caused my wife a lifetime of shame. Although I remained seated, I became entranced by the way they faked lively conversation. Throwing their heads back in silent laughter and leaning forward to inquire, an exaggerated expression of dull surprise and the women, tilting their precious chins to one side in coy flirtation. I liked that because it reminded me of almost every bad party I'd ever been to.
Sometime in the second or third act, I found myself drifting into a restive sleep. Not merely a nodding- off, as one does on a bus ride, not a surreptitious nap but a full-on dream-filled slumber of night.

I couldn't tell you what I dreamt of. It was something quite far away, I can say this much because I suddenly awoke with a start. To save my life, I couldn't have told you where I was or why. I looked up to see the lead soprano perched at the edge of the stage, with the lead tenor at her round elbow. Both of them looking down at me in reproach and hitting a powerful C note "in full voice." I thought for a moment I was trapped in the tunnel with a train barreling at me. It is a terrible way to wake up.

After I managed to compose myself somewhat, I realized that the big scene with the poisoned violets was coming up. Something worth staying awake for, at least. Sure enough, the heroine took a sniff and collapsed in the arms of her lover and sang a bit, they rolled around a bit on the floor and she sang a little more, softer this time. He kissed her arm and then her neck, and finally she stopped singing altogether. Done in by those anonymously sent flowers.

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  1. Brilliantly funny! I'm very glad I stumbled across your blog.

  2. Isn't it really, Ayak, brilliantly funny! I love the way he writes with seemingly effortless beauty, alongside with a splash of humour and even though all of it is quite eloquent, it's not stuffy or pretentious. Quite extraordinary really. I'm a new reader too, and I must say it takes a lot to make me come back to a blog.


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