Friday, 18 January 2008

Seats? Overrated.

This is hard for me to admit, but contrary to the impression I may try to emit, I'm not actually an opera buff in the slightest. This is largely due to my appalling long-term memory: I have been to the Royal Opera House twice before; the English National Opera at least three times; Holland Park Opera once - I've even sung in the chorus of two operas in Dorset - but the sad truth is that, with the exception of the ones I was actually in, I have no clue what I have seen. I'm pretty certain Carmen is on the list. Eugene Onegin rings a bell, although I have no idea what it sounded like. I know I haven't seen any Wagner. But other than that, I draw an embarrassing blank.

Thus it was that, as the lights dimmed over the sumptuous ROH last night, I listened to the opening bars of La Traviata to see if I recognised it as something I'd witnessed before. Immediately, I knew for sure that I had never seen it in person - but I certainly recognised it. Not from my classical upbringing. Not from school. From Pretty Woman. I cringed. Here I was, trying my hardest to be culturally broad while physically slim - but my benchmark for recognisable opera tunes was courtesy of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. It was a personal low-point.

When I'd wrenched my self-esteem back to healthier levels, I began to enjoy the left hand side of the opera. The right hand side was, of course, completely obscured due to our cheap position high up in the standing area - but for £7, I wasn't complaining. The sound was unaffected, we could see the surtitles perfectly so we didn't miss any implausible plot developments and, to be perfectly honest, I felt some pity for the people who had spent such absurd amounts on their seats. Surely they were looking at us resentfully, livid that we were witnessing the same magnificent spectacle but for a fraction of the price?

The opera itself was fantastic and seemed to last about ten minutes - an unusual sensation for me because although I love the big numbers, I do tend to get a bit restless during all the less aurally palatable recitative stuff. I think it's the fact that I was brought up on musicals. My least favourite section was the third act. Strangely, everyone in the audience seemed to have caught Violetta's TB in the second interval as they suddenly started coughing feverishly having been almost silent up to that point. Additionally, although I had done extremely well not to feel too single in such extraordinarily romantic surroundings, the couple who moved to stand next to me for the finale could not seem to keep their hands off each other and were constantly kissing and snuggling audibly, exacerbated by the man's fondness for rubbing his lady-friend's back - she was sporting an unfashionable velvet jacket and the noise of his hand running against the fabric's grain seemed deafening.

Those slight gripes aside, I had a wonderful night and look forward to my next trip. The replacement soloist was fantastic but she needs to work on her shocked 'Moi?' expression on receiving cheers at the end as it was unconvincing and hit fondue levels of cheese - although not as annoying as the lovers next to me who altered their 'Bravo!'s for the men to 'Brava!'s for the women and 'Bravi!' for the assembled cast. Growl at the prohibitive ponciness of the educated classes, she types using long words.

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