Recently, I was asked if I wanted to come and experience the Vancouver Opera as part of their Blogger Night at the Opera program. I immediately said yes as I’ve never been to an opera before…well at least not as a member of the audience.
Huh? Were you in an opera?
Kind of. Back when I was in high school, I had the opportunity to be an extra in Aida which was being performed at BC Place stadium – I had to audition for the part which consisted of being tall enough to march around the stage. It was a huge event back in the late 80’s. My main memories of the event was being herded around the catacombs underneath the stadium for wardrobe and makeup. I was a foot soldier and had to wear a uniform and some kind of bronzer makeup since we were all supposed to be egyptian. I never actually got to see much of the opera since I was either backstage 99% of the time or marching around the giant stage behind the large animals (and the guy with the shovel to clean up after them). Sadly, I can’t find much on the internet about the event.
So tonight, I’m bringing my camera and laptop down to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre to see the opening night performance of Norma. No, I won’t be blogging WHILE the performance is going on. That will happen during the intermission and afterward.
Opera Update – the day after
Unfortunately there was some technical issues with the internet access at the theatre so I wasn’t able to post any photos or updates during the evening.
It’s a little hard to see but notice the surtitles above the stage are a suggestion to follow the Vancouver Opera on Twitter.
The set was pretty impressive up close (apparently it took 36 hours to assemble) and to be able to walk around on it beforehand was interesting for me because of my theatre background. Everyone was surprisingly calm considering this was opening night.
So what did I think?
Having been my first (real) time at the opera, it certainly was a spectacle to see.
I arrived a little early to get setup but there were plenty of guests already lining up to get in. The people that came out were no different than fans of any kind of concert…these ones just seemed to be better dressed. Speaking of which, I was surprised to see such a range of people wearing everything from tuxedos to jeans. I was half expecting it to be like some scene from Batman with a sea of penguin suits but it was much more diverse. Certainly, many women used this opportunity to dress to the nines…I don’t recall seeing that many stilettos in one place before. I think that’s one aspect that people really enjoy about the Opera is that it’s a chance to dress up and have fun.
I’m the first to admit that I don’t have any opera music on my iPod. Norma was sung in Italian so I didn’t understand any of it except when they sung the name ‘Norma’ since it appears to not have any Italian equivalent. Fortunately (or not), there are projected titles above the stage (called surtitles) where everything is translated. It had been suggested (by friends who are opera fans) to avoid reading the surtitles as they generally are literal translations and despite the singing being beautiful, are generally kind of mundane words describing a point in the story. This proved to be generally true although it was more distracting to be looking at the stage, then look up top for the translations, then back at the stage for the action as there was quite a bit of eye travel distance from my vantage point. I was still able to follow along fairly well although I did have a basic understanding of the storyline ahead of time. The surtitles also seemed to approach Engrish on a few occasions so I had to contain my snickering a couple of times: “My joy is complete!”
There was a few times during the performance where either a costume or a set change reminded me of World of Warcraft. Nerdy yes. But I guess it’s unavoidable when you play too many videogames. Particularly when either Norma and Pollione are singing…they just looked like NPCs from WoW. Even the set was lit like it was straight out of Ironforge. I can only imagine the game designers were influenced by opera in some way. This is what happens when a geek goes to the opera.
I certainly wasn’t sure what to expect going into Norma but actually did enjoy myself. Because I wasn’t familiar with the music or story though, it’s kind of like going to see a band whose music you don’t know. You’ll still enjoy it but it gets better if you’ve heard the music before. It was brought to my attention though, that this particular production was special because in the opera world, the cast that had been assembled is like a dream team of singers. Judging from the crowd reactions during the curtain call, it was kind of a big deal.
It was cool to meet Mark Donnelley backstage at the after party who regularly sings the national anthems at the Vancouver Canucks hockey games just a few blocks away at GM Place. He actually sang the anthem at the game before joining the cast on stage that night. He’s got a pretty cool Canucks business card with the job title ‘Anthem Singer’ on it too.
I actually did have a good time at the opera…despite being a newbie. It also helps to have good company to talk about what you’re experiencing but that goes for any night out.