Wow. I won’t say I get Puccini now, but I can certainly see what he is trying to do.
(Mostly, he’s trying to make people *miserable*, but he does it very well)
We had our first performance tonight. God, that’s an evil opera. I mean, really. Puccini basically sits there and lovingly sets everything up to be as nasty as possible and then lets you think – if you are foolish enough to trust him – that maybe everything will be OK, before deliberately dashing your hopes. It’s very effective, very emotional, and quite, quite horrible. Which is to say, Puccini achieves what he sets out to do – he makes one feel many, many things through his music. Sadly, I would rather not feel most of those things…
Performing it in a church was a really excellent idea – I love my operatic spectacle as much as the next person, but having the opera take place up close and all around you is amazing. I feel that chamber opera is a genre whose time has come, and I very much hope that this will be successful enough to be done again. Though it’s quite a job for the (excellent) pianist who represented the entire orchestra, barring a drum or two.
The soloists were extremely good – the acting was excellent, and you could understand every word. Well, every English word, anyway. They’d made the interesting choice of translating most of the opera into English, but singing repeated segments, or emotional songs that had less plot content in Italian, and I think that really worked (though it was a bit disconcerting the first time they lapsed into Italian, leaving me wondering if I’d suddenly stopped understanding English). As for the singing – I think it was very good all round, particularly Scarpia (though it’s hard to tell whether I loved his singing or just his general awesome evilness) and Tosca (who has mastered the art of the Hysterical Scream On Pitch, clearly a very important skill when dealing with Puccini, and whose low notes were really terrific), but it’s actually a bit hard to tell how good the singing is when I don’t really understand the music that well. The style required for it isn’t one I’m very partial to, but they did do it well.
As for the chorus stuff, well, that was fairly amusing, actually. I turned up on Tuesday and was allotted to first soprano – the choir at that point consisted of five people, with reinforcements from Bairnsdale due to arrive today (they had sung with the regional performances). So I sang first soprano for half the rehearsal, but it eventually became clear that the alto was struggling with sight-reading against two loud sopranos, so I offered to join her on alto for a bit. Everyone seemed rather amazed that I could do this. I was rather amazed that they were amazed – I’d told them I could sing soprano or alto, and they had asked for good sight-readers. Of course, this was all rather pleasing from my point of view – I would love to do more of this sort of thing (paid would be nice, but hey), and these are Opera Australia people, so I really do want to make a good impression.
On Wednesday, I started on alto, but this time the alto had clearly had a chance to study the music and was rock solid, and we started disrupting the first soprano… so I alternated between parts for a bit, before finally suggesting going back to soprano for the time being, and just learning both parts, so that they could decide where to put me when they had the rest of the choir. This seemed to impress people too (they kept asking if I was sure that was OK), but I pointed out that it was a single piece of music, and really, the more parts I get to sing, the more fun. This seemed to amuse them.
Last night after choir, then, I dutifully studied the first soprano part and the alto part until I could sing them nearly by heart, and then, just for fun, I had a go at the second soprano part, on the grounds that I hadn’t tried it yet.
… you know what comes next, don’t you? I couldn’t make the daytime rehearsal today with the Bairnsdale crew, so I got there tonight, asked where they wanted me, and received the sheepish reply “I don’t suppose you could sing second soprano? Only if you’re comfortable, of course, but we have quite a few firsts and some good altos…”
So I sang second soprano tonight, on one run-through at home and one with the rest of the chorus. Because I could. And yeah, I’m quite pleased with myself on that one (though the music wasn’t all that hard). Also, I was amused to be greeted by several separate members of the Bairnsdale group with “Oh, you must be the sight-reader”. Heh. I’m not sure exactly what was said this afternoon, but I’m thinking I have successfully made that good impression. The music director (who was also the tenor playing Cavadarossi) has asked me for my contact details in case they do something like this again, which is excellent.
And that’s about it. It’s certainly enlightening to see/hear my first performance of Puccini. I think I’m still not really into that style of opera, though I enjoyed the music more than I expected to. Not so much the utter horror and misery of it (though the black humour was rather good).