Thursday, April 14, 2005

Opera for dummies

Madeleine Begun Kane, Humor Columnist, Guide For The Opera Impaired -- Humorous How-To
There will inevitably come a day when some misanthrope, posing as a pal, drags you to The Opera. Don't panic ... unless Richard Wagner composed the opera, in which case playing dead will help you match the mood of the music.

But even if you have the relative good fortune to see an opera by one of the "i" composers -- Verdi, Rossini, or Puccini - - you will have to prepare for your ordeal...

I've taken the liberty of giving Madeleine's post a less euphemistic title! For those who intend to catch (or are coerced into catching) Madama Butterfly at the Esplanade (May 5-9) but have never been to an opera before, this article is a godsend!


Chances are, the opera won't be in English. I know -- it's shocking. But even those relatively nice "i" composers had the audacity to favor Italian. (You know how rude and inconsiderate foreigners can be.)

Although this can make it tougher to know what's going on, there's no need to panic. Most opera companies thoughtfully provide translations in pamphlets called libretti. Not only do libretti provide helpful plot clues, but they can be tossed at the stage in the absence of fruit.

Additionally, many opera companies project English translations onto screens throughout the performance, providing a handy excuse not to look at the singers...


[Ed: Very important! Think of these as "exam tips"!]

Your evening won't be complete unless you impress your date. To create the illusion that you are an educated opera buff, simply memorize these insightful observations: (Note: You needn't understand these comments. Nobody does.)
    I've heard better high C's.
    His vibrato sounded wide, don't you think?
    Beethoven should have stuck to symphonies.
    She's no Callas.
    He's no Pavarotti.
    Pavarotti's no Pavarotti.


You're nearly ready for your opening act. Just master these etiquette rules and let the overture begin:
1. Singing along should be limited to the loud parts.
2. Yelling "Your voice stinks, you lousy bum!" is discouraged ... unless you're in Italy.
3. Using the conductor for target practice is frowned upon ... except by the musicians.
4. If you must chew gum, masticate in rhythm. [Ed: The only people who will be chewing gum here are those with dental problems!]

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