Mercurylab in London Summer 2015 | At the Opera

July 13 2015

I want to confess to all of you that I have become the tiniest bit of an operaphile, or however it should be spelled. I came to the opera after years of resistance, having been dragged by my mother to see Gilbert & Sullivan operettas as a child and hating every moment. Then the Metropolitan Opera in NYC had a wild ticket sale to see Madame Butterfly at $25 per ticket, so off I went – and I was hooked. For visual people, the opera is, well, operatic. The extravagant scenery, defined and theatrical gestures, character defining costumes, and then, of course, there is the singing. 

In recent years, opera companies throughout the world have undertaken to bring this art form – originally of the people – to wider audiences, given that major performances with international stars, directors, and production designers are madly expensive to produce. Operas are filmed and shown at the cinema so that audiences all over the world can attend in their local theatre, while companies like the Met in NY use their piazza to simultaneously show a performance in real time, attracting thousands of viewers. The Met is grand in all of its brand expression, from its 1960s building, to the massive Chagall installations, and the extravagant grand staircase.  There are 3,800 seats. When we saw Madame Butterfly, we were literally almost sitting on the ceiling.

The Royal Opera is another story, though. The environment harks clearly to the past and to the company’s roots, with gilded boxes, silk shaded sconces, and a sense of real intimacy. It’s easy to imagine what it was like to go to the opera two hundred years ago. At the same time, this company is wildly modern in its concerns, with displays of plexiglass installations showing stage projections for their production of Don Giovanni. Although both opera houses have restaurants, the Royal Opera feels more intimate, a place where you can imagine having a tête-a-tête over a magnum of champagne before stumbling back to glory in the heroine’s dying aria.  Seeing Falstaff, reimagined as a highly designed and mannered Mad Men era world with its superficially chaste values, was an incredible way to first experience The Royal Opera and its visceral, seductive charms. 

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