We went to the Metropolitan Opera with Tickets from Elena to see Hansel and Gretel in a new production. We had a great time, but I’ve written a long (and un-edited) exploration of my feelings. Check it out and tell me what you think. Don’t judge me too harshly as I give my feelings, I know I lack the opera loving receptor, but I loved the experience of going with Linda and the kids. I’ve tried to organize my thoughts and I started with randomly, but I think I’ll start with the part that I liked looking back at the experience. It is long, but I think an interesting novice’s-eye-view of “a morning at the opera.”
Spectacle (What I Like)
Opera, as I’ve said before, ever since I went to my first one, is like a silent movie. You can tell by the music what is going on. The rumbling of the major chords at the bottom of the scale means the villain is nigh. The minor chords in strings means we are supposed to feel sorry for someone. Well you get the picture. And this opera, and I have to say all of the operas that I’ve been to (all thanks to Elena, thank you so much) have had amazing productions. The spectacle of the operas are just amazing. I was so taken my every aspect of this production in terms of set design, costume and casting that I was interested throughout.
When I go to an opera like Hansel and Gretel at the Metropolitan Opera House I am struck immediately by the artistic genius of all involved. In this case the trees dressed up in suits are the metaphor and image that I want to focus on (because this is getting too long). Suits, I am sure, mean some sort of quotidian conformity to Opera regulars, quite something else to those of us who went to the show yesterday.2 The suits with heads of branches are a perfect metaphor for lost in the woods of something. I’ll not get too far into the weeds of my own imagination and pathologies, but I think that they represent to me how I feel when I am at an opera. I am lost in the woods of wealth and power at leisure.
I cannot see the forest of a common communal recreation for the trees of expensive clothes or the wealth to but the $100+ tickets in the pockets or purses of each of the attendees. But again I am projecting my pathology on a communal form of entertainment. So I often spend as much time looking at the finery of the attendees as I do at the show itself. Whether it is the crisp expensive suits that I only wish I could afford and wear to he expensive gowns and cocktail dresses that tease out the décolletage of 1 in 6 of the female attendees, I recede to my shell of alienation. These are like the treats at a fancy bakery, too good to eat, and I can’t afford them anyway, so I’ll just say that those grapes up there sure are sour.
But, back to my main point, I do love the productions of most, if not all of the operas I have seen. These are the works of true artists and they speak on a level I appreciate and in a register I understand, which is visual. I guess that I beat up on opera so much because I am totally non-musical.
Mason just woke up and we talked about the show. Here are some things he reminded me about. His comment was that only the third act was interesting. Whether that was because of the sets the house and forest were both pretty plain, again like silent movies, this time German expressionist films, with strange long angles and sparse worn-down looking places. The third act was in the industrial kitchen of the witch and was really visually stimulating. It had lots of cakes and props with which the cast had lots of fun. Especially the witch who even comments on it in the NYTimes slideshow. I think that the music might also be a bit more lively and there is certainly a lot more action in the third act, including the kids who are the gingerbread men come back to life after Gretel pushes her in the oven.
Also the cross-dressing of the casting caught Mason’s and my attention Hansel and the Sandman were played by women and the witch witch was played by a man. I don;t know what to make of it, but it was certainly something that kept me interested as the music washed over me.
Act 2 was in the forest which was a giant room with the trees painted on the walls. It reminded me of Where the Wild Things Are when the room changes into a world and he sails off across the ocean. This is where the fish-headed butler, and the 14 angels (all fat pink chefs), the tree headed suits and the sandman all come out. Nothing much happens, but there is lots of spectacle.
Act 1 was a harsh kitchen not unlike Mother Hubbard’s. It was a great rendition of a crummy dirty kitchen that hearkened back to depression era movies with the Bowery boys. The sloproom sink with one cold pipe running down to it gave it an air of disuse and primitive industrial revolution “convenience” grown long in the tooth. Mason was bored and I spent the time thinking about the set. I think Lennox was just busy wrapping her head around the spectacle and I don’t know what Chandler or Linda thought.
We were in the 2nd row on the right so we missed a lot in the fist two acts because of the cool cubbyhole sets which hid plenty from us in the first two acts.
People (My Inferiority Complex)
It was a matinée for kids and there were a lot of students there and I have to say that the “unwashed masses,” my people, made me feel more comfortable. I have real issues with the people who go to big fancy theatres. My low sense of self esteem, working in concert with all of my defense mechanisms, keep me feeling alienated and apart from the “theatre crowd.” Now whether that is opera, classical music, broadway or off-broadway theatre doesn’t matter. I feel myself, like a hermit crab in a new shell, looking out from the calcified recesses of my exoskeleton at the world enjoying the show. I remember this feeling when I was little and younger though it is now an unfortunate habit. I went to see a production of a Shakespeare play in HS (that was pretty hip with street clothes and a multicultural cast) and even with all of my theatre class there I felt less-than and alienated.
Here at 48, more than 30 years later I have to admit that it is not the audience that makes me not like big C culture but something within me. I dress it up in some sort of neo-marxist workingman’s communitarian blah-blah-blah, but is is me. I use my profound alienation and judgmental nature to hide my lack of appreciation for opera, classical music, big house jazz, theatre and other (big C culture) cultural standards. In truth my shell may be weakening because the regular Opera buffs who were there in force seemed to be good about the unwashed masses attending the show. In many cases they seemed to like the reaction of the uninitiated.
Metropolitan Opera Building (Architecture)
Yesterday was the first time in the 20+ years I have lived in NYC that I darkened the halls Metropolitan Opera House. While I’ve been by the icy modern marbled columns of Lincoln Center hundreds or thousands of times, and I’ve been in Avery Fisher hall twice, this was my first trip into the belly of the beast. Whenever you see columns 50+ feet tall you are supposed to be impressed. These are signs of might, power and wealth. Whether it is walking into the Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum, or the Post Office on 33rd and 8th they display nothing but the wealth, stature and power of the creators. Lincoln Center, of course, eschews doric, ionic or corinthian for dome sort of modern “break from the past.” The result is of course an extra layer of alienation. If we (and I mean I) feel alienatied, less important and small next to the three grand ladies hypertexted above, then planeing them down only makes it worse. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian Columns have been intimidating my species for over 3000 years, so there is a familiarity that we greet these monsters with as we try to worship GOD, see an opera, painting, hear classical music or get postage.
The architect who sold the design for Lincoln center to the rich folks and standard oil without “Doris, Iona or Corninthia” surely meant it as a sign of openness, warmth and welcome. Along with the porous marble, which I’m sure is meant to be more welcoming because of its imperfection and openness, it totally alienating.1 The change in material and form is the bonnet and grandma’s bedding (30 thread percale) that the big-bad-wolf dawns in Grandma’s house to trick the virginal Red Riding Hood. Nonetheless there are the big teeth instantly recognizable to us all. So if places like the post-office, Macy’s and Church have made us familiar with the trinity of classical columns the planed down and quasi organic curves of the Met only jolt me into another level if alienation and inferiority, but I (obviously) think too much. This is another justification for my lack of appreciation of the form within.
Music (I Don’t Get It)
I guess I’ve never appreciated opera. Or, maybe more honestly, I don’t like opera; certainly I don’t understand or care for it. It has always struck me as weird sounding. I know that the sounds that they make with their voices are hard to arrive at, and in some sense they are pure, but really. I just don’t get it. After having written everything that I have about the big day out I realize that I respect, appreciate and understand what they are doing, but I just don’t like the sound of it.
Maybe it was my father listening to opera starting around the time I hit puberty (and not before) that has set me against opera. It was just about the time that he got his PhD and I think he was spreading his wings away from the commune that he had raised us in since 9. It was an abrupt change from the grateful dead and crosby, stills, nash and dope. I too had outgrown much (but not all) of their music. In any case the long pure notes and sounds of classical singing struck me as odd, alien and forced. I didn’t get it in 1972, and I still don’t. There was a teacher at one of the kids preschools who sang every song in what she thought was a pure operatic soprano, it was the nail in the coffin of her “out-of-touchness;” even her 4 year old charges knew there was something weird about her. The position of opera in popular culture being that of rarefied (and slightly snooty) big-c-culture it limned her off from the pre-school charges (and their parents) fairly completely.
1 The imperfect marble is like the torn jeans and worn clothes of the super-rich who do not need clean well maintained clothes to assert their wealth and standing.
2 Case in point was one of the young bakers on stage for the awarding of the HS winter bake off that also took place there. He had on a suit that was so cheap that you could see his discomfort in it and the padding within it from the moment he walked on stage. You could see in an instant how it contrasted with the blazer over slacks of the director who announced the show.