29 January 2017

Tweeting Poulenc

I thought I would try a new approach to my blog review of last night’s opera by gathering together and commenting my tweeted review elements. Hope you find it amusing or informative! (And hey, if it’s good enough for bad governance, it must also be good enough for the arts. Yes, I’m looking at you, T-Rump.)

The caveat is important. Even after all these years, I go to the opera for the stories and sometimes get carried away by the music. Sometimes I am blown away by how much more effectively a story can be told with music and singing (see my review of Les Feluettes).

I have a strong tendency to love the sets! The simpler and starker the better. This one was so amazing with a floor that looked like it belonged in a large religious institutional building, some solid dark wood chairs and prie-dieu, translucent white curtains that sometimes allowed us to see only in silhouette the gathering crowd and sometimes served as suggestions of divisions between spaces. There was not much else there, and no need for anything else either.

The opera is set in the time of the French Revolution. The nuns’ habits being so timelessly unchanged, it seemed very jarring to see the militia members in dark, modernish military outfits. I have a much of a uniform fetish as the next gay man, but they looked vaguely nazi-ish, and I am probably already on edge about that kind of issue because of what is laying out on the news these days.

That’s what was playing out on the news even as we sat in the audience at Place des Arts. We’ll notice that I have a typo in this tweet — the “protest” should be as plural as the verb that follows — especially considering what I had the nerve to add afterward…

Yes, I’m a pedant, and one who makes his own typos. But isn’t this high-brow entertainment? (I jest: I think opera ought to be way more accessible, and I make a point of going in jeans!)

There is some real theological debate going on here. Reminding the nuns that the convent is not a place of refuge, but of work, not a place to affirm one’s strengths, but to test one’s weaknesses. And the rejection of the idea that the nuns could choose to be martyrs for their beliefs — that they could only believe and accept the consequences, but that God would decide whether they would be seen as martyrs. Oi! The Catholicism!

If you’ve read any of my previous opera reviews, you’ll notice how much I tend to like lighter Italian fare with bouncy tunes. I guess this would remind us of my caveat at the beginning about not being an expert!

It really was like hitting the pause button. The curtain came down on the nuns in formation on their knees, praying. After the 20-minute intermission, the curtain rose and there they all were again, in formation on their knees, praying!

Given the sparseness of the set, I was wondering if they were going to roll out a guillotine or pretend there was one off stage and lead the nuns there, one by one. Spoiler alert! I am going to describe how they did it after the next tweet…

The nuns standing in the lights of a checkerboard pattern of lit and unlit squares on the stage, hands together in front of their chests in the usual prayer way. They are singing a devotional song. A horrible sound and the light of one nun goes out as she drops her hands to her side. The others keep singing. One by one, each of the martyred nuns is guillotined in this way. The time between them is random enough that each is a horrible shock, each is as effective as the last. Really amazingly well done.

Bravo, Opéra de Montréal, bravo!

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