I had the funniest opera experience in my life two nights ago!
Anglican church (what???)
A fully staged La Traviata performance in it.
My husband and I – first to get there, so eager and excited.
He has collected “credits” as he put it, for agreeing to go.
So, I owe him, apparently.
And then there were also four rows of Germans.
These guys are those really cheeky people who, in a hotel at a resort somewhere they’d be the ones who’d wake up super early in the morning, get towels and go ‘occupy’ the best beach beds around the pool.
Then they’d go have breakfast with the other – normal, much later waking up – people.
This theory, of course, is according to my husband.
So, in our opera case, even though we paid extra for first-row seats, we still couldn’t get them despite us being half an hour earlier at the church.
Because of all the Germans who got there long before us and occupied the best seats.
I’m whispering that, of course, because my husband shushed me not to say “Germans” too loud.
Because the Germans will be offended if they’re called Germans.
Anyway, they turned out not to be Germans at all.
Now, about the best part of the opera.
It wasn’t Violeta’s and Alfredo’s duet.
It wasn’t even the conductor hitting the first violin for playing so badly.
Because the conductor didn’t do it even though the first violin played so badly.
It was the couple sitting next to me – a mother and a son – who were my nationality!!!
The son was probably around mid 40s but looked like mid 60s.
Bold, spare truck tire under his chest, pale-blue, worn-out jeans, dark colour socks, sandals, and an Adidas duffel bag clutched between his sausage feet.
You’re in a church!
Attending an opera!
You don’t have to put on a tuxedo, but sandals, jeans and a sports bag?
I was so curious to know what the guy carried in it.
Not his gym outfit for sure.
He didn’t look the sporty kind at all.
He carried his keys maybe, sandwiches, stuff?
And then he opened his mouth.
Where do I begin?
After Act I the guy began to criticise everything about the opera with such enthusiasm and pathos as if he was looting a shop.
And from there on he became a mystery to me which propelled me into the quest to find out who he was.
In a totally anti-fairytale way, that is.
He was so critical of every single thing there was on the stage – musicians, instruments, singers, conductor.
He would have trashed the church, too, if it dare spoke, or sing.
But I still couldn’t figure out what or who he was.
He used musical terminology but then he called the clarinet a ‘whistle’, maybe to belittle it, who knows.
He’d say something like “oh man, the first violin is really annoying me. He’s pulling half way through his bow. You’d play just half a tone this way” (and how did you know it wasn’t half a tone the violinist had to actually produce?!).
Then he’d go, “he does those, what do they call them pulling the string with his fingers”.
Definitely not a musician if he didn’t know “pizzicato”.
But what was he then?
What a mystery, wrapped in lard, dressed up in 70s hand-me-downs, with the mouth of a misogynist.
“The soprano is terrible. What are these faces she’s producing – sticking her teeth out. What a horse-mouth”, he’d go.
“Hasn’t she ever seen how an opera singer must sing? Her mouth was stretching like she’s a horse neighing”, during which sentence he was actually stretching his mouth in an exaggerated way to vividly describe what Violeta was doing.
His mother meanwhile tried to calm him down.
She mumbled things, most likely in defence of the performers because he flipped to every mumble of hers.
“aaaaarhh, every average person in our country can perform better than these two. I can’t even hear the tenor, this is ridiculous. This is total tragedy. Who gave him a diploma”.
To give him some credit, the ‘critic’ was actually right to an extent.
I barely heard tiny Alfredo’s tenor voice.
The orchestra wasn’t even full size.
Alfredo was so tiny and barely hanging onto the stage that Violeta could have popped him like a tic-tac, if she wanted to.
True, he was kind of weak.
But then again, after Joseph Calleja, every living tenor sounds weak.
Listening to the ‘critic’s’ vile criticism, I was officially on the quest of finding out what on earth he did for a living.
Was he a musician?
An opera house curator?
The opera house cleaner?
A plain asshole?
Act II came and the ‘critic’ began to sing alongside the baritone, Alfredo’s father in La Traviata.
At this point my eyes were completely fixed on the man to my left.
Forget the opera, I’ve got a huge show right next to me.
The ‘critic’ was gesturing, conducting himself, grimacing in complete disagreement with what was coming out from the Alfredo and Violeta singers.
He seemed to like the baritone, however, because that was the only man the ‘critic’ applauded and loudly ‘bravoed’ (to which the whole German group , that turned out not to be German at all, swayed to see where that came from.
In the entr’acte, just before Act III, my husband decided he wanted to talk to me about something which annoyed me to no end because I couldn’t hear what the ‘critic’ was criticising this time.
“Quiet, I’m trying to listen!”
That’s when my husband officially proclaimed that I’m “obsessed” with the ‘critic’.
Was there anything left uncriticised on the stage?
The church’s lights?
The ‘critic’s’ poor mother kept saying something very gently, trying to calm her son down.
He just couldn’t let go that the conductor, the first violin, the tenor and Violeta were so ‘awful’.
His mother, however, turned out not to be his mother at all but a relative who was visiting Rome.
She was someone else’s mother while the ‘critic’ had taken her to an opera as part of her Roman experience.
I felt for her dearly.
I wondered how much she actually cared how good the conductor was.
Towards the end the mother who turned out not to be the critic’s mother gave up.
She was staring at the ceiling (where was I staring???), probably feeling uncomfortable for being embarrassed by her son who turned out not to be her son at all.
At the end of the opera, everyone applauded the performers.
The ‘critic’ was grinning nastily, shaking his head and disagreeing openly.
He only bravoed the baritone again.
In fact, he gave several shouts of ‘bravo’ to the baritone guy, to which the Germans turned again, curiously, to see where the shouts were coming from. (Like they didn’t get it the first time?)
I never found out what the ‘critic’ did for a living.
But this made me think about something else, more important.
I thought about us, people, being critical of things and of other people.
Just like me, here, criticising the ‘critic’.
Is it in our nature to be so critical and judgmental?
Is it in everyone’s nature to be critical and judgmental?
If not, who is more prone to criticising and judging?
I wonder if a research can be done to check whether the big critics are also big achievers or just big losers who use criticism as defence to hide their own failures.