I’ll admit it. I’m a bit afraid of the opera. I want to like it. I like the music, the pageantry, the concept of it. I love the idea of dressing for the opera. I feel like I’m supposed to like it.
But, I always feel a bit, well, dumb when I think about the opera. Funny, because my first opera experience–at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC, back in the day before the translations scrolled above the stage–included a pre-performance conversation with a friend’s professor who told us the story (The Magic Flute with Red Buttons of all people, if I remember correctly), prepped us, and accompanied us. And, I loved it.
Flash forward a decade to Chicago, home of the Lyric Opera. All I really knew about the Lyric was that it may have been the model for the opera house in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and that from the river the building resembles an armchair.
Then I met the man who eventually became Culture Husband. He’s educated about music and he loves opera (and Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd). So, he took me to the Lyric Opera several times. And each time we really enjoyed the performance. But, eventually we settled in to our subscription at Steppenwolf and haunted other live theaters around town. The opera–tickets expensive and hard to come by–fell by the wayside.
So, I was delighted to read about the Lyric Opera’s program Popcorn + Pasquale, a 70-minute program billed as “an opera adventure for children and their parents.” Culture Husband, Culture Sprout, and I were among the hordes who packed the house for an abridged version of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
I had forgotten how beautiful the theatre is. Truly, one of Chicago’s many gems.
As the lights went down, one of Don Pasquale’s servants (our Host, actor Ross Lehman, a Chicago legend), came onto the stage and beckoned a young boy to join him. He invited the boy to be a servant in the performance and learn about the opera. Through this device–the Host speaking English to explain the story, the art form, and the theatre to the boy–we were introduced to the characters, the scrolling supertitles, the orchestra, and the conductor. The Host intervened just enough to set expectations and prep us for the story. Then he sat back and let the opera singers take over.
Don Pasquale lampoons the melodramatic nature of many opera books. In that, it is a great story for kids–it’s not too serious and it is a lot of fun. The boy asked what we were all thinking (such as “Why would she marry Don Pasquale if she’s really in love with his nephew? Don Pasquale is so old…”). Sitting up in the first balcony, we had a great appreciation for the talent and lungs it takes to project a voice without a microphone. And, we could perceive which voices did it a bit more strongly than others.
I won’t pretend to know enough to critique or review the performance. I will say that as parent and a wannabe opera lover, I appreciate that the Lyric offers this performance–real opera singers performing a real show with a theatrical device to explain it to newbies. As a Chicagoan, I was thrilled to see a packed house and to know how many like-minded families (and Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, and elementary schools, all with big yellow busses in front) were willing to check this out. It seems like this is a trend in the opera world, along with bringing the Metropolitan Opera live via satellite to a movie theater near you.
As for the popcorn–only Don Pasquale had it. He brought it out and threw it at his nephew and at the prompter’s box. We should have known that popcorn at the opera was too godo to be true!
Culture Sprout liked Don Pasquale, but admitted that she’s not ready for a full length opera just yet. Good thing I hadn’t yet purchased the tickets to Hansel and Gretel…
- Cringing at the opera (chicagoreader.com)