Art, Music, & Film: March 2006 Archives

Le Nozze de Figaro

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I like Opera. I like it very much indeed and, perhaps as a result, I am not an "Opera Snob." I can't tell you the names of all the great divas on the last fifty years. I can't compare the performances of Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi. I probably couldn't even tell you the range of voice in which various parts are sung. I know that I can't articulate the difference between the various types of Soprano (a defect I shall set out to remedy upon completing this entry).

As a result, I am in a wonderful place to enjoy Opera when it is available--performed capably by Amateurs or professionals.

Friday evening we bundled the family into the car and headed downtown (if Orlando can truly be said to have a "Downtown"--in this respect it is much like a former home--Columbus, Ohio) to see Le Nozze de Figaro, perhaps the best-loved of the Mozart operas, and one of the all-time great comic operas.

When we arrived at the place where the presentation was to occurs, I was taken aback. The building was small, dingy, showing typical Florida wear-and-tear. The parking lot very limited and due to road construction no real alternative anywhere.

Upon entering the building nothing of my first impression was changed. This was a building perfectly suited to the offices of the local gendarmerie. Indeed more institutional and less cultural a center would be difficult to find anywhere. In my mind this did not bode well for the performance.

Then there were the programs that announced that tonight's performance in this more "intimate" setting would be sung by the "second-string" singers. Now, the Orlando Opera Company is not what one would call a world-class performing company to start with. Imagine my chagrin at thinking that we would be hearing from the singers-in-training for this company! Well, actually there was more chagrin with where we were than with who would be singing. I've heard very nice productions indeed from College troupes--so I had no doubt that this group, which consisted of people who hoped to make a living with their voices, could be very good indeed--even if they had the inauspicious name of the "Lockheed-Martin Troupe."

If that were not enough in itself, the entrance to the "theatre" was enough to send even the most sanguine of people into fits. We were ushered into a small room sectioned off from the surrounding cinder-block with black curtains suspended from rings on an aluminum runner. The seating area was perfectly flat and filled in the front with "reserved" seating chairs that looked like inexpensive additional seating for a boardroom. The rear consisted of plastic lawn-chairs with tissue-thin cushion set in them. Overall, the layout reminded me of the cafeteria/auditorium I had in elementary school, where everyone sat at the same level and looked up at a very small stage.

The stage was indeed, quite small. But Figaro is a "bedroom" opera requiring no large sets or stage. It can be performed to perfection (as I was to find out) in even the most inauspicious of locations.

Taking our seats, we awaited with something approaching dread, and with a lot of complaining from all around, the commencement of the opera. The "Orchestra" (of perhaps seven people) walked into the theatre and to the pit via a side aisle. The Opera was about to begin.

All the build-up and dread vanished within a minute as a superb baritone started up the opera by measuring the floor of the bedroom for the bed that the Count had given the couple to be married as a wedding gift. Surprise piled upon surprise as each of the performers both sang and acted their parts beautifully.

Le Nozze de Figaro is really an ensemble opera. That is, there are four parts of about equal importance as the opera plays out. Each of these four parts was sung very, very well. Despite this, a couple behind us, who, we had been informed, "had seen performances at La Scala" walked out at intermission. They hadn't time for these amatuerish performances. And that is really a pity for them because they missed out on some real joy to be derived from people who were really enjoying what they were doing, doing particularly well.

After the opera the cast lined up outside in a kind of receiving line, another real pleasure and joy because we were able to express our thanks and appreciation to each person individually. The person who played Figaro commented to Samuel that he had not been able to attend an opera until he was in college. I think everyone was surprised that there could have been a child so young who behaved so well through the entire performance. And Samuel was very well behaved.

Any way, what started as a dismal, disheartening evening turned out to be a gem of a show, one highly memorable for the quality of its singing and for the opportunity to meet the cast. I could only wish for more such opportunity and for a larger, more appreciative audience for opera as a whole.

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Lagaan is another film from India; however, I am uncertain whether it qualifies for Bollywood status as it tends to be far more serious and subdued than many such.

The title is derived from the word Lagaan which means something like "tax", but something more like "tribute." The story is set during the British Raj and features a particularly despicable British Captain who is oppressing the people in one province (state?) in India.

One of the leaders of a farming village, Bhuvan, grows tired of the oppression and ultimately challenges the British to a cricket match. The Captain offers Bhuvan the following: If you win, no lagaan for three years; if you lose, rather than the double lagaan I was going to charge, you must pay triple lagaan.

Just prior to all of this the Captain had informed the village that since he had waived lagaan the previous year, he expected double lagaan this year. One gets the impression that he did this because the local ruler refused to eat meat at his table. Now the Captain knew that the local ruler's religion prohibited the eating of meat, but he nevertheless demanded it. While watching, I thought of the scene in 2 Maccabees with the seven sons of the Jewish Lady.

Any way, we now know that this particular British Captain is evil. What IS nice about the story is that not all of the British are so portrayed. The chief help the village receives as they begin to prepare for the game comes from the sister of the Captain who also, quite bravely, faces up to him several times in the course of the film.

The last hour or so of the film features a cricket match that stretches over three days. On the night before the last day the villagers meet together to pray for success in the game.

Despite the fact that to anyone other than the British and the members of their Commonwealth/erstwhile Empire, Cricket is utterly incomprehensible, the movie is wonderful from start to finish. Beautifully filmed, colorful, and meaningful. Songs occur throughout in English and Hindi. Interestingly, the film is subtitled and features the subtitles even when the characters are speaking English. I suppose it is easier than figuring out when to subtitle.

At any rate, this is one of the more serious films from India I have seen, and it is well produced, exciting, interesting, and gives a most fascinating perspective on the culture and people of India. Highly recommended to anyone interested in recent history and Indian film.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Art, Music, & Film category from March 2006.

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