* Notes *
Now, I would like to preface the review portion with this: I am a pretty harsh critic when it comes to classical music, opera in particular. In fact, I've been called many things - opera snob, Nazi, Fascist, a mean person with zero compassion. Look, I entered the Shanghai Conservatory at the age of four during the Communist regime. Enough said. But, I did adjust my expectations to account for the outdoor setting - which changes the sound quality drastically and is actually quite challenging for the singers (and the orchestra) as they get very little acoustic feedback.
Greek soprano Dimitra Theodosiou sang the title role and was vocally competent. Actually, I would even say, "Poli oreo!" She demonstrated good breath control through her smooth phrasing and she produced enough sound to fill the theater and made the delivery seem rather effortless. The tenor singing Pollione, Angelo Simos, was another story. Looking at Simos, one would expect a thunderous voice that typically accompanies someone of his size (that would be XXXL). Unfortunately this was not the case. About halfway through the first act, his voice sputtered and just about died. It was obvious that the poor guy was straining his vocal chords and trying to squeeze every bit of sound he could from his pipes, but his voice was breaking and he cracked on several notes. On several occasions the orchestra swallowed his voice and he was barely audible. Oddly enough, he made a triumphant comeback in Act II. Now I don't know if he wasn't properly warmed up earlier, or if he took shot of steroids Barry Bonds style during intermission, but his singing in the second half was decent. A lot of singers who aren't used to singing outdoors make the mistake of trying to hear themselves instead of relying on how the sound feels vibrating in the body as it pours out. If you try to adjust your volume based upon how you're used to hearing yourself in an opera house, well, good luck buddy because you'll be screaming your head off until you're hoarse and you still won't get that same sound quality. Playing the part of Adalgisa was Romanian soprano Cellia Costea who sang beautifully, her voice rich and velvety.
The acting was comme ci comme ca, but the music and setting were so beautiful that, truth be told, I paid little attention to what was happening on stage. At times I would look off into the distant, shifting my gaze from the artificial full moon in the production to the first quarter moon in the sky that lit up the city of Athens. The theater is located just below the Acropolis. I was surrounded by ruins, thousands of years old. During intermission, we were treated with a light drizzle of rain that stopped just in time for the performance to resume. Night had fallen and finally a light breeze picked up, which we all welcomed against our hot moist skin. When my body started to ache from the uncomfortable seats, I brought my legs up and sat yogi style, closed my eyes, and allowed myself to slip away to wherever the music wanted to take me - back in time, across the sacred forest, through the temple, and into the pyre.
* Tattling *
I'm pretty spoiled when it comes to opera. You'll usually spy me in a box wearing my tiara with a glass of champagne in hand. Let's just say I'm used to very comfortable seats. So when I got to the formidable outdoor Odeon of Herodes Atticus and found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place, I was tempted to bitch and moan with my 3 fabulous fags who came along for the show. But then I gave myself an attitude adjustment. I was like, "Dude, LCU, you are seeing Norma being performed in one of the oldest outdoor amphitheaters in the world (built in 161 CE). Frickin Maria Callas sang here!" And then the performance started.
Actually, I'm going to bitch just a little bit more. After all, I am writing for the Opera Tattler. Not only did I have the pleasure of sitting for 3 hours on stone seats (we had some lame cushions), but it was also a very warm night. I'm talking 85 degrees here people. No breeze and lots of bodies squished next to each other. It was a sold out show. I sat on the aisle thinking I'd have some extra leg room until some heifer planted her fat ass right on the steps next to me. Then, guess who comes parading in with his phat entourage... the President of the Hellenic Republic. Yup. Interestingly, he was pretty well-received by the crowd and even got a bit of an applause despite the entire country being bankrupt and in a general state of disarray. Then, minutes into the overture, I noticed some commotion a few rows ahead. Someone was telling someone else to shut it. And then all of a sudden, the guy doing the shushing flung water out of his water bottle at the person who was talking. He ended up getting a whole crap load of people wet and there was a lot of hissing and protest from the crowd, but thankfully no fights broke out. We were at the opera after all.