AN AFTERNOON AT THE OPERA
Opera in Vallejo? Preposterous, but true. It’s not the San Francisco Opera or L’Opera de Paris, or anything even remotely like them, but it’s a living, breathing phenomenon playing here in our far-flung little town and I doubt anyone can walk away unmoved.
Isn’t being moved the reason we go to the opera?
All you need to do is open your mind and allow yourself to feel the wrenching pain of Verdi’s heart-breaking melodrama, Il Trovatori, playing now at a ramshackle (but improving) theater in town, performed by good singers and a little orchestra, who managed to transport us to exactly the place where the composer and librettist wanted us to be — in the deepest, darkest depths of despair.
I experienced a variety of emotions — starting with pleasure at having found a parking spot across the street on Broadway (try that in New York or Paris), where I was greeted by the theater’s owner, who opened the front door for me. I handed over $25 to the amiable ticket seller, and chose a seat in the front row.
There were only a handful of us in the audience, and all but two had grey hair (this is not an opera for sissies). No curtain, no mise en scene, no frills, but pretty good costumes, which allowed us to believe we were in an earlier time in history, except for one fellow’s trousers which looked like his regular street pants.
A sceptic by nature, I was braced for the worst, but that never happened. My emotions were stirred from the very first notes. To begin with, I felt doubt and denial, but by the time that memorable Sunday matinee performance played its final chords, I’d experienced the whole gamut of emotions, including surprise, acceptance, astonishment, horror, misery and utter despair.
My thoughts went out of control as the opera unfolded. I resolved to write my last will and testament as soon as I got home, and talk to my family about my final hours, or days, or whatever. I recalled the horrible doctor who described my demise as an agonizing scene with bloody needles and tubes. All sorts of terrible images went through my mind while I witnessed the murder of one’s children, torture of enemies, mothers burning alive at the stake, suicide, fratricide, and the pain of unrequited love.
You’d think it’d be difficult to imagine the soprano who played Leona as a beautiful young virgin maiden, or that her lover could be played by a man who looked old enough to be her father, or that the mother of the hero was young enough to be his granddaughter, but none of that mattered.
The music did its job in spite of all obstacles.
Only the violinist, who played like Jack Benny, brought me back to reality from time to time, but, it was a difficult piece to perform. Nevertheless, the orchestra and singers learned the score, the lyrics, the arias, the staging and movements; they changed costumes and lighting and remembered their entrances and exits. They did their job well enough to put me through the wringer for nearly three hours, and then mercifully released me back into the sunshine of the day.
I recommend Il Trovatore, performed by the Verissimo Opera Company, at the Bay Area Stage Theater in downtown Vallejo.