Last week I got a message from one of my friends :”Free tickets to the Opera next Tuesday. Do you want to come?” My response was - hell, yes, I am there! I really, really missed going to the opera, shows, and concerts – stuff you have to ditch from your to do list when you are unemployed. I didn't even care about what we would be listening to – that's how exited I was; an opera by Wagner? An opera by Wagner it is!
So, while I was getting ready, Baby Bro wanted to know what precisely I would be looking at, aside from the walls of the Met. I told him that it would be Wagner, but I had no idea which one. He right away reminded me that my German is not as good as it used to be. Then, being of curious Jewish bent, he immediately googled the whole thing and told me that I would be listening to Siegfried, and the whole thing is over 5 hours. The mental picture of that alone amused him to end - well, younger siblings.... I reminded him that we can always leave if we would not enjoy the performance, of just get tired of it; I also promised to brief him after I got home.
After a friendly usher at the Met tried to scan our tickets, he gave us a bit of a strange look and asked if we wanted to see The Valkyrie, as tonight was a different performance. Basically, our tickets were for Monday night, not Tuesday. But the usher told us to check with with the manager and see if he can help us. The manager exchanged our tickets and told us that the left side of the orchestra was the best he could do – apparently, our free tickets were for the orchestra seats, to boot!
A short investigation reveled that neither my friend nor yours truly were responsible for the mix up, but rather the holder of the original reservations. And, as it turned out, he was not alone, as there were a few more lost souls in the entrance line who were holding the tickets to The Valkyrie. All of us ended up seeing Handel's Giulio Cesare – how in blazes did Baby Bro ended up with thinking if would Siegfried, nobody knows.
Now, my music history teacher would probably be ashamed of her former student, but it was the first time that I heard of this opera (at least it felt like it). Curios as to what particular part of Caesar’s life Handel used as the basic story, I was not surprised to find out that it was his (Caesar's) initial meeting with Cleopatra – at least the way it is portrait in the realm of historical fiction.
I was also aware for a while that both the Met and the New York City Opera are gravitating towards minimalism in their productions, but this new production of the classic surpassed even my wildest conjectures.
You see, the “creative producer” of this “new version”, Sir David McVicar, who hales from Glasgow, Scotland, decided to, I guess, try to absolve himself of his white guilt and in the process make some derisive fun of the British "empire builders". I mean, that is the only explanation I can come up with for the outlandish set of this gorgeous opera. In his view, Romans entering Egypt were conquerors invading a different (and probably superior) culture, so in his artistic interpretation of this theme, the Romans in the opera wore the costumes of British soldiers from the turn of the 20th century, and the Egyptians resembled Hindus from the same era. The fact that by the time Caesar met Cleopatra, the royal palace of Egypt strongly resembled Rome culturally did not really phase the creative juices of Sir David. He went so far as to dress his Cleopatra as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's – which annoyed me to no end, both as the historical purist and as a Hepburn fan (my dislike of that particular movie non-withstanding). To that travesty he added Bollywood style dancing (because, I guess, it blends seamlessly with a baroque opera), and, as a cherry on top, some obviously homosexual overtures at the beginning of the third act. Also, I guess just because our dear Mayor got everyone's liver by now, shotguns were shown and “gunshot effects” were used.
But guess what? All of this nonsensical stupidity paled next to two things: the indescribable pleasure of listening to a live performance in a place with perfect acoustics (which beats any kind of electronic invention hands down), and, most importantly, the divine beauty of the music itself.
The genius of Handel, "a dead white male", was mocking all the attempts of mocking the "white culture". His music, written so long ago, is so beautiful and filled with so much soul, that it not only triumphs over the current multicultural stupidity, but will also outlive the said stupidity and delight both civilized people and savages alike in many years to come.
It was a first opera that I actually enjoyed almost in its entirety, not just an introduction, and an aria here, and an aria there. For a period of almost four hours I was transported to a different plain; the idiocy of the modern production did not matter. All I needed to do was close my eyes and enjoy the beautiful voices and the divine music. So, hurray for the genius of the dead white males, and huge thanks to my friend and her co-worker with reading comprehension problems!