“I don’t mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it is a language I don’t understand.”
– Sir Edward Appleton, English Physicist
Buenos Aires – I enjoy opera. There. It’s out in the open. I’ve said it. I enjoy opera. I’m not what you would call a fan or fanatic or groupie or whatever the term is, in the sense that I can’t talk ad nauseum about this tenor or that soprano or why the baritone should be sent upstage. I’m only barely aware that the distinctions exist and have something, more or less, to do with how rumbly or squeaky their voices are. I like the music – well, I like classical music in general – and I like the pageantry and color and movement… all the things that were, in a sense, missing from the performance I went to the other night. It was Sunday, I was on my own for the evening, and I clicked on the agenda for the day (more below), and spotted an obscure French opera being performed at the Museo Nacional del Arte Decorativo, which isn’t far from home, and simply decided to up and go and see if they had a ticket available – realizing at the same time that I haven’t even been to an opera since I moved to Buenos Aires. I didn’t even know it was an obscure French opera until I checked it out online just so I’d have a vague sense of the story – something you simply have to do if you’re going to the opera, since it will invariably either a) be sung in a language you don’t speak, or b) if you do happen to speak it, you can’t understand them anyway over the music and all.
So it was off to Iphigénie en Tauride, one of many interpretations of the Iphigénie story, which, of course you all know… brother and sister separated when father decides to sacrifice daughter to the hunting god, but she’s rescued by another god and sent to live her life out raised as a cult priestess, meanwhile brother grows up, kills his mother for reasons that aren’t part of this story, and sets off to recover some sort of statue which is being held at the temple where sister is growing up, she believing he was killed, he believing she was killed, he gets captured along with his best friend (boyfriend? it isn’t clear), is sentenced to death by the local king, she figures out who he is, trys to save him, ends up saving the friend, who runs off, and in the last moment before brother is to be killed, returns with an entire army that was conveniently waiting nearby, kills the king, rescues the brother/lover (I’m just going to go with that), everybody, except the king, happy ever after. For a change, in the opera world, the dying king doesn’t launch into a solo performance as he dies, he simply dies.
All very exciting, no? Well, kind of. If it was staged and pageanted and all that good stuff, it probably would be very cool to watch. But… it was held in the grand drawing room at the Museum, a beautiful room, no question… with the audience filling most of it, and a small platform right in front of the audience on which sat the 20 or so musicians playing their part, and then, behind them, on a slightly more raised platform, the performers came and went from doors that lead off into other rooms of the museum, and sang their parts, pretty much immobile – a bit of shuffling about the platform here and there, combining in duos and such, but no acting in particular, it was just the singing, most of which was pretty much lost behind the volume and positioning of the music. The costuming consisted of the three central characters being in white and everyone else in black – simple shirts and pants, or dresses. So this was really more about the music than anything else. Actually, the most action came from the conductor, an energetic man who leapt about the stage, hither and thither, crouching and jumping, coaxing a bit more out of one musician or another – if you’ve ever seen the Bugs Bunny cartoon Long-Haired Hare, where he takes on the persona of a famous operatic conductor, it was pretty much just like that. So I listened to the music and watched the conductor. It worked.
Did I enjoy myself? Yes. Will I go back? Yes.
For those of you local who don’t know how to find classical music concerts, operas, etc., you should know this site: Música Clásica en la Argentina, where you can click on the “Agenda” and find events for any day coming up, along with links to more information about each. Invaluable.
There’s also a page on the Teatro Colón website that has links to various other performance venues and specialty music sites, where you’ll find even more events.