Monday, October 13, 2008


Saturday night, I somewhat unexpectedly found myself in Baltimore, at a production of Aida. B&c has a friend (the wife of a former boss) who usually accompanies him to the opera in Baltimore, but she was taking an apparently much needed vacation after having successfully married her daughter off the previous weekend. But b&c didn't find out for certain that she wasn't coming until Friday. On Saturday, I got up earlyish so that I could go to the office, then I returned home around 3:30 to take YFU shoe shopping. YFU is, to my eternal gratitude, very fast with any sort of clothing shopping, so we were home again by 4:30, and b&c had dinner ready around 5:00. Not long after 6, I was sitting at my computer, and I heard, "Shit!" from the living room, followed by "I can't believe they changed the time!" from the dining room, followed by, "It starts at 7:30!" from the door to the office. "Well, go get a shower and get dressed. It's not even 6:15 yet." And then there was some sort of muttering and doors were slammed, and so on, and I calmly went upstairs and put my suit on, told YFU we were leaving very soon, then came downstairs to wait for the loud clomping and histrionic whinging of a partner in panic. In his haste to ensure my daily dose of drama, he'd also mislaid the tickets, but I found them, and we were in the car just a bit after 6:30.

There followed nearly an hour of cursing and questionable traffic choices, but I napped through most of that. I considered telling him to calm down, but a) I hate to give him any attention when he's like that, and b) he might have hit me. He was worried about parking, so even though it was perhaps 7:26 when we got in the area, he parked, badly, a full four blocks away from the opera house in a lot that had been set aside for the purposes, but which no one was using because there was a regular parking garage next to the opera house. Anyway, b&c was so rattled that the attendant seemed a little frightened of him and told him that he could park anywhere he wanted. Then we walked very briskly to the opera house, where there was a lengthy line of other similarly late patrons waiting to sit down. The line was long enough that I figured I could grab my ticket and dash (literally, alas) to the men's room, but I was slowed down by a restroom that was shockingly unclean for an opera house, even in Baltimore. I ended up having to dash again (and again literally) for the balcony, just sliding in as the door was closing and barely making it to my seat before the playing of the national anthem. Not only does every opera season in Baltimore begin with the playing of the national anthem, but most of the residents sing along.

Anyway, Aida was a terrible disappointment. I will take b&c at his word that this was the fault of the soloists rather than Signor Verdi; certainly, the principals were nothing to write home about. The soprano playing Aida at least looked credible in the part, but I kept nodding off during her arias. The tenor did a credible job with "Celeste Aida," but his diction was terrible, and he really just didn't look like the sort of guy you'd put in charge of the Egyptian army. Well, maybe now, but not in the age of the pharaohs. The bass baritone singing the role of the King of Egypt (I was unable to understand why he was called that rather than pharaoh) was tall and handsome, but Amneris looked old enough to be his mother, rather than young enough to be his daughter. Also, he was mostly inaudible, but, hey, it's a very small role. A couple of the solo dancers were very attractive, and one of them danced in a thong covered by a loincloth (or whatever they call the Egyptian version of a loincloth) that was made of net, so you could pretty much always see his very nice ass. I do have to say that the bass singing Ramfis sang well, looked the part, and was not unattractive, but he was wearing way too much.

Anyway, the Baltimore Opera isn't exactly a first-rate company, so I suppose we couldn't expect the best production in the world, but it wasn't until the lights came up at the end of the second act that I finally realized how bitter my disappointment was going to be: there were no elephants. The second act of Aida without elephants is like sex without, um, sex. Granted, this was the first (and possibly last) production of Aida I've attended, but even I know there have to be elephants. The production was done with a fairly minimal stage of ascending and descending screens upon which were projected various graphics with the approximate impact of a Power Point presentation. I'm all about minimal sets, but the set designer (who, it was painfully obvious, must have wet himself with delight when he learned how to use a computer to control graphics; there was all sorts of silliness that would have been impossible twenty-five years ago) couldn't even be bothered to project elephants on the screens. I guess that the costumes were suitably opulent, but there are a lot of cute young guys in the Baltimore Opera chorus who would really have looked better in an Anubis headdress. And nothing else.

Anyway, maybe a first-rate cast and a herd of elephants would have made for a memorable production, but maybe not. My impression was that if you want to stage Aida, you need to go really old school: put everyone in a box with curtains that can be drawn and give three lengthy intermissions. Then everyone can compete to bring the best picnic supper, people can drink a lot of wine, and when Amneris' voice entirely disappears on the low notes, she can enjoy the uncommon experience of a shower of chicken bones and overripe produce. God knows she earned it. Also, it wouldn't hurt if they actually sealed a tenor in a crypt. Really, who would miss another tenor?

The whole thing did, at least, make me think of a joke my brother's first wife used to tell. Actually, that joke is the only thing I remember about her (they weren't married all that long). She used to say, "Tim [my brother] is pregnant! He's going to have a baby elephant. Do you want to see its trunk?"


Jérôme said...

Oh Ted , that's a really bad joke! I don't like Aïda: too pompous but I am a snob... The bass seems to be quite ok for that kind of opera but don't you think he is a bit "visqueux" to really be "not unattractive"?

Will said...

You only get elephants in Aida at outdoor opera--the dressing rooms in opera houses just aren't big enough.

It's been tough to cast Aida consistently the last couple of decades. It's one opera that doesn't sing itself, being just difficult enough that if you don't have the chops there's no place to hide.

Oh, I'm back by the way. I've missed your winning combination of porn, humor and smartass sensibility.

Tork said...

Can I play with the trunks of those pregnant guys whose photos you posted?

Anon in Paris said...

I clicked on the link for the bass singing Ramfis and I am glad I did - a lot of eye candy there, at first I wondered if I was on an escort website.

The national anthem at the beginning of each performance... very, very strange.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

Actually, anon, I think they only do it at the first performance of the season. But it was certainly the first time I'd seen it done at the opera. Apparently, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra also does it before the first performance of the season.

Anonymous said...

Fuckin nice bear on two and the ball on five... love to have them smackin my ass!