I’m going to be real with you guys. This week is a bit more of a laid back, personal piece, because a few days ago, I went through a theatre experience that was entirely foreign to me up until now. What was that theatre experience? Well, I’m happy to announce that last weekend, my grandma took me to see my first opera!
I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’m twenty-two and just now getting into this art form, but it’s never too late to find something you enjoy. And boy, let me tell you, that performance was a real treat to attend! I briefly considered making this piece a review of the production itself, but truth be told, this trip to the theatre, to me, was more about trying out opera and testing the waters to see how I enjoyed it compared to the usual line of musical theatre I follow. How did it measure up?
Well, the opera we went to see was Houston Grand Opera’s production of Der fliegende Holländer, or The Flying Dutchman. Having not been to an opera before, I decided to look up the plot synopsis and listen to a few songs beforehand, so that I knew what to expect. The plot itself is pretty wild; the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman is sentenced to sail the seven seas for eternity unless he manages to find a bride who is willing to be faithful until death, and by sheer luck, the daughter of a sailor who encounters the Dutchman on a beach has been swooning and fantasizing over the legend of this poor captain, declaring her love for a man she never met and announcing her plan to devote her life to saving his soul from its eternal suffering. The fact that this girl’s father just so happens to agree to the Dutchman marrying her before she and the Dutchman even meet is a level of coincidental action that makes even Les Misérables jealous.
The thing I noticed about watching this opera was that, with the help of the projected subtitles on top of the stage, following the story felt very much like watching any modern musical. I don’t know if I expected otherwise, but perhaps I was wondering if the medium of opera would feel very different from what I’m used to, since this particular piece was written almost two hundred years ago. On the contrary, the relatively enjoyable ease with which I understood the story’s events and appreciated how the music accompanied each character’s lines gave me the same impression that my favorite musicals give me. It really reminded me just how much modern musical theatre was (and still very much is) inspired by the operas of the past centuries.
The performers were all extremely stellar. Of course, it was different from what I’m used to. I noticed immediately that the singers weren’t using microphones to project their voices, which, while standard for opera singers even today, was still very impressive. The acting was also...well, grandiose. There were big, dramatic gestures and facial expressions that would be over-the-top even in a Broadway musical, but the strange thing was that somehow, for this show, it worked. I mean, the music was big and grandiose, and the story was in turns interesting and hollow enough to warrant giant, boisterous characters to fill in the gaps. But since opera on its own is an over-the-top, dramatic kind of theatre, I would say this served to perfect my authentic opera experience.
Overall, I really, really enjoyed the show, and I’m very happy with the fact that I got to experience my first opera. So happy, in fact, that my grandmother decided to buy us tickets to see La bohème in a few weeks, and I was sure to track down a DVD of Der fliegende Holländer in order to enjoy the work more in the comfort of my own home...you know, just until I’m able to catch a live performance again sometime. Will enjoying opera become a regular pastime for me? Possibly! I’m not sure. But I am glad I got the chance to try it out, and I’m very much looking forward to finding out what the medium has in store for me in the future.
(Image by Lynn Lane)