A Pernicious and Corrupt Art
February 25, 2002
Last Monday I went to see Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Metropolitan Opera. Ordinarily I would avoid Prokofiev (1891-1953) altogether, his music is too modern for my conventional sensibilities. Also, Tolstoy himself despised opera, calling it a pernicious, corrupt art form, an ungainly mixing of different modalities of art. However, my friends wanted to go to the opera, and they could not afford to go to Le Nozze di Figaro, as the inexpensive tickets were sold-out for the particular evening we were in town. The only other option was War and Peace, which P had been reading. The funny thing was that C started reading War and Peace and decided that she couldn't go to the opera after all, because she wasn't finished in time and she loved it too much to spoil it in the middle. They both read it in French, apparently half the book is in French, and they are both native speakers of French, so there you are. Seeing this opera made me want to read the book itself, but it has to wait for now.
The opera was very impressive in scope, as it calls for about 60 roles, a huge chorus and a ballet. Just seeing that many people on stage is really incredible in and of itself. It was also the longest opera I have seen thus far, a mere 4.5 hours. The Metropolitan did the whole thing in one night, with only one intermission, which I thought was commendable. The music was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, it was not particularly memorable though. Anna Netrebko does have a most lovely voice, though I believe her role in Falstaff at SF Opera showed her voice more to her advantage than this opera. Again, the Metropolitan had wonderful singers all around, good staging, clean choreography, and pretty costumes. The sets were very clever, the stage was set at an angle so that upstage was actually up from downstage, and there was a circular part of the stage that could spin about, like a gigantic Lazy Susan, except flush with the rest of the stage, not raised above it. The whole experience wasn't nearly as good as Le Nozze, which goes to show that the music is essential to this opera business.
My favorite part of the opera was when they were having a celebration in the second part of the opera, and they had a huge red chicken made of cloth, it was like an enormous puppet. There were also red sparkles at this part. I couldn't believe I was seeing this in real life, it was awfully surreal.
Naturally, we must include the obligatory complaint about certain audience members. There was a lady and her child who was around 12 or so. The child ate elaborate chocolates that she unwrapped from cellophane for the second half of the first part of the opera. It was very loud, the people in front of her turned around to give her dirty looks, and my companions both noticed and were disturbed. Unfortunately, she was not directly next to me, or else I would have had her stop immediately. I had to wait until the intermission to ask, kindly as I could manage, that they not eat during the opera as it was distracting. One of the ladies in front of them smiled on me approvingly, so I felt a bit more justified in my request. They were quiet the rest of the opera, which was very nice. Why people cannot manage to do one thing at one time boggles the mind. Is there not a time and a place for different things?