"La Traviata" Lite

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I wanted to see opera in Italy, and I did. But it really didn’t end up being what I was expecting.

There was a brochure at my hostel, and it seemed perfect. An opera? In Venice? How could I go wrong? So off I went to get a ticket, which turned out to be a somewhat mystifying process. I found the venue, and that was when I started to have my doubts. It was a bit Fringe-y, and there wasn’t exactly a Box Office or anything. Luckily, I ran into two women speaking French who were also trying to buy tickets, so I latched on to them. Even more luckily it turned out that one of the women didn’t just speak French, she also spoke English, and German, and (most important) ITALIAN. It’s remarkable how many people over here speak two or three or four languages. Even, or perhaps especially, people in presumably low-paying service jobs can switch between Italian, English, French and German. Really impressive. So the friendly quadrilingual woman consulted with someone behind a hidden door, who directed us to a café down the street where the proprietress behind the counter was selling opera tickets along with espresso and panini. It was weird, and like I said – Fringe-y, if the Fringe charged €30.00 for a ticket. (I know that's cheap for opera, that should have been another clue, I guess.)

My “opera house” was just through this archway, on the right.

On the night of the performance I showed up and was directed into a lovely room, but it really really wasn’t an opera house. I’d been to the Fenice opera house for a tour that afternoon, and I’ve got a bit of experience in the performing arts, so you can trust me when I say this room was not a purpose-built performance venue. It was a lovely room, there’s no question of that, but it was not a theatre. It appeared we were in for something more in the way of a staged reading or "chamber opera" (if there is such a thing) rather than a fully-realized production. Still, I settled in to my folding chair and decided I was going to enjoy it anyways.

I told you it was a nice room.

It was “La Traviata”, which Rob Hamilton declared would be a “prefect beginner opera”. (I called to consult him while I was waiting with the bewildered French women, trying to buy my ticket. It was great talking to you Rob, and I loved the long pause after I said, “Rob, it’s Pam. I’m in Venice.” and before you started laughing.) The orchestra was two violins, a cello and a grand piano, the set was a riser and some chairs, the lights were parcans on sticks at a truly awful angle (front light only, of course), and there were 7 in the cast. But it was Verdi, and it was Venice, and you know, I kind of liked it. It didn’t have all the pomp and ceremony of a performance in a grand opera house, but you could tell the singers were giving it all they had. It was obviously a small, underfunded group of enthusiasts. I suspect they were professional, but barely; they didn’t even have programs. (It sort of felt like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland might show up at any moment and say “My Dad’s got a 17th century ballroom! Let’s put on a show!”) (Also their scene changes were truly awful, and that’s something that doesn’t take money to fix, you just have to actually care about what you’re doing and think about it for five minutes beforehand.) (And I did find a website later on. There's a tiny bit more information here.)

My view of the stage

So I sat and listened and tried not to fixate on the fact that the riser boomed every time someone took a step, or that I could only see people from the waist up. And then, not long into the performance, the leading man broke out into a very familiar tune and it was kind of magic and I was in Venice and I was listening to opera and it was all fine. (It was that bit from the first act that goes Da-da-daaa, da-da-DA da-da-DA da-da-DAAA, da-da-DA dadidadiDA dadidadiDAAAA. You know the one I mean.) And so it went. The whole performance ended up feeling a bit long but not as long as I expected, and I zoned out some of the time (who doesn't in an opera?), but all in all it was a good experience.

And that was my opera in Venice. After the show I walked through the dark, almost deserted streets and over bridges and along canals, heading towards San Marco. It was cold, and I had my hands shoved in my pockets and I was at that point of being in a city where I didn’t need the map. San Marco was almost empty except for a faint whiff of tourists, the string quartet at one of the fancy cafés, aimless white-jacketed waiters with no one to wait on, and one couple dancing to the music out on the sidewalk. So I hopped on the second-last vaporetto of the night heading to Ferrovia, and I rode along the Grand Canal in the dark and figured that I’d actually done the Venice thing pretty damned well.


Unknown said...

Sounds like you squeezed all the goodness possible out of that thin opera experience. Consider it a good step towards your first real opera.

The good thing about opera when you are travelling is that it is always in some language you don't understand so you can see it anywhere.

Sometimes the words are projected on surtitle screens above the stage, but that does not help if the opera is in Italian and the surtitles are in Hungarian or German.

In all cases, I tend to think of the show in terms of colours and emotions rather than the exact facts and dialogue.

I let it flow over me like a river of beauty...


Everyone enjoys opera in their own way. Maybe you will find more Opera opportunities later in your travels.

Keep on truckin'

Rob H.

Kathryn said...

Yay - i am glad you got to see at least 'some sort' of opera - and Traviata is a great one. I absolutely know the tune you are referring to - commonly referred to as the 'drinking song' - your rendition was surprisingly recognizable! It's a hum-along kinda tune! (probably used in an assortment of pizza or laundry detergent commercials)
Hope Florence is treating you well.

Lisa said...

Yup...I pictured you ambling back with hands shoved in your pockets...almost whistling a happy tune...

Like Rob said, I hope you get more Opera-tunities!!

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