Before we get to this weekend's opera experience, let's have a little chat about the promotional material. I have long admired the series of posters the Opéra de Montréal uses to promote its productions. Very stylish, they give a little glimpse of the story behind the opera and leave a lasting impression in the minds of those who see them.
A couple of weeks ago, a bit of a kerfuffle around the imagery of the poster. In fact the male lead in the Opera objected that the stylish image used was doing a disservice to the singers. Using a model as they did not only obscured the singers – who are, after all, central to the opera experience – but it also delivered a politically sensitive message about body types and what we would use to promote an event. How could they forego featuring the talented singer in favour of a thinner model just to sell?
The Opéra de Montréal produced an additional poster, this time featuring the male lead (tenor Marc Hervieux), and this is also the image used for the cover of the program. Interesting debate and outcome.
For anyone who is wondering, this is Die Fledermaus, or The Bat, by Johann Strauss II.
I have to say that it was an interesting experience at the opera. Interesting can be good, but not always. There were tons of nods to Montréal, from the opening set featuring the cross on Mount Royal as the scenery outside the window, through explicit references in the spoken parts and even current political jokes. One of the characters trying to pretend to be Italian and having trouble speaking the language in a convincing fashion did the usual run-through of Italian-sounding words, pasta shapes etc. and the added "Zambito". The crowd roared with laughter at this inclusion of the name of the star witness at the Charbonneau inquiry into corruption in the construction industry.
So, yes, I did say speaking parts. There was a lot of speaking in this production, which took me by surprise. And I swear that while I am pretty sure that there was some German in the singing (the original libretto is in German), most of the rest was sung in French, with a bit sung in English. It's too bad, because the song in German was the prettiest operatic piece I think I have heard in German; it would have been nice to hear if the rest was as pleasant to listen to.
Some other extraordinary events that I'm pretty sure Strauss didn't have in mind, but were greeted with applause. An appearance by Josephine Baker at the Prince's masked ball, and she was accompanied by four dancers who were a little classier than the Chippendales dancers in their backless formal vests and were relatively well choreographed. There were a number of choreographed dance routines and they seemed to be well-appreciated by the audience. There was a fair amount of slapstick in the drunkenness of the third act, but that might well have been Strauss' plan, too: the piece is based on a farce.
The best one of all: the large group number with singing and dancing, performed with the choreography of Psy's Gangnam Style. Another eruption of laughter in the crowd. This was also particularly apt politically in light of the setting of the scenes in Outremont and Westmount, our own Gangnam neighbourhoods.
The usual opera things that give me a chuckle: if I put on this little half mask that obscures mostly my forehead and nose, nobody I know will recognize me; likewise, a toge and a wig snatched from the lawyer I found incompetent in the first act will ensure that my wife, who fooled me with the first trick, doesn't see that I am her husband. If I sing at the top of my lungs, but the surtitles are in parentheses, nobody can hear me. Those things are fun in the context of the crazy outlandish plots.
All in all, my companions and I did enjoy ourselves and laughed heartily on a few occasions, so the evening was pleasant. Probably because of the constant interruptions of the sung parts by the speaking parts, I don't actually feel like I have seen this opera. I'm going to have to see a different production of it to see if I really like it, and that's too bad.