Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Virginia Opera - Opera in the Park 8/31/2013

On Saturday evening I settled into the couch for what would be the beginning of what normal working folks might call a "three day weekend." I flipped through my Netflix queue and having exhausted a majority of viewing options, decided to finally cave in and watch the first season of Breaking Bad. The award winning and massive hit of a show was just nearing its finally few weeks and, having started and stopped watching the first episodes three times now, I was finally determined to catch up in time for series finale. You see, for me, a holiday weekend doesn't mean much. I worked Saturday morning and I would be working that Monday afternoon which was not far from the norm, though also I am no stranger to a three day vacation, seeing as after that Monday afternoon shift my next one wasn't until Thursday evening, meaning I had plenty of time to get through four or five seasons of Breaking Bad before the final episode as long as i started right away. That is when my wife entered the room. She was holding in both hands her opened lap top, and without a word placed it in my lap and pointed at the screen. TONIGHT 7:30 - 9:30 pm, FIRST ANNUAL OPERA IN THE PARK. I checked my phone for the time, it was 6:30, and from my apartment to the park is about a 15 minute walk. I decided quickly that Breaking Bad would just have to wait a few more hours, and we set into motion immediately, hesitating only to discuss wither we should drain a bottle of Prosecco into a water bottle or into ourselves before heading to the show, we decided on a water bottle, and grabbing a blanket were out the door. and this was the beginning of our adventure.

 About a half a block from the front door of our apartment we were crossing a one way street when without warning over the rooftop of an around the corner coffee shop swooped a low flying Bald Eagle! Live and in the flesh it glided slowly and lowly, just over our heads, i felt like i could reach up and pluck a feather from its tail to wear in my hat, and it disappeared on what must have been the canopy over our back deck. A giant and truly majestic looking creature surly does not exist in the city of Richmond Virginia we each thought silently as we turned toward each other, jaws hanging wide, and could do nothing in reaction but high five. 

The Event took place at Dogwood Dell, a 2,400 seat open air amphitheater in the heart of Byrd Park, where on each fourth day of July flocks of Richmonders swarm to watch the fireworks, and the rest of the year mostly remains empty. That night was a different story, it was what they hoped would be the first annual Opera in the Park event, and somehow went almost unnoticed by my wife and I who happen to be, especially her, somewhat plugged in to the local Opera scene. Luckily the rest of the city did not have the same problem because the turn out was inspiring. I should know by now that my city is hugely supportive and Arts-Interested, but part of me still always expects these things to flop, though they almost always are rousing successes, this being one of those times. Even with the storm clouds circling over head, and the occasional leaping lightening bolt just beyond the stage, the seats were completely full and the blankets and beach chairs stretched far back into the park itself.

We arrived just as the MC was introducing the conductor for the event, his joke was something to the effect of, "the conductor for the night will not be me… and you should be glad for it!" which stared things off with a pleasant patter immediately followed by an excited applause as the conductor and first violin took the stage. The evening was quickly introduced as a selection of pieces from the upcoming season of Virginia Opera, and after a brief tuning they were off. The first piece was an aria from the opera Carmen which started things off with a whisper, though a galloping one. The Virginia Symphony was fluid and the singer was lovely though i could help but think about all that is lost in translation in the concert setting. If only the crowd here could feel and see the energy in the actual performance of the song, then perhaps skeptics would be swayed from what was actually lost in literal translation, here it was just a beautiful song preformed professionally, I was starting to feel a bit worried as I do at the opera concerts, but i quickly was proven wrong, as the next aria was one of Ford's from the Verdi opera Falstaff, and it was put forth with full drama and expert acting. It was a heavy second number which juxtaposed perfectly with the lighter and faster Carmen aria before it. Doing this they managed to set forth the range of emotion which the music strives to achieve, and I, feeling fully comforted, laid back on the blanket and closed my eyes.

I never felt more interesting or culturally significant than lying on that stretched out blanket in my cut off jean shorts among a sea of old squares, listening to opera and snacking on a left over bag of Jet Blue pretzels from another recent Opera related excursion. A moment that really didn't translate into Instagram, though try as i did. 

The next few numbers were sure crowd pleasers, the Virginia Opera Chorus came out and preformed the always exciting Anvil Chorus described by the host as a favorite of fans of the Marx Brothers, followed by something from the Magic Flute which they hoped would act as the "family friendly" Opera of the season. This was followed by the famous sextet from Don Giovanni whose introduction achieved the usual giggles from opera lovers, especially when accompanied by the word "sextet." Bunch of nerds… We were right at home.

As satisfied as i was after that first half of the show, it was after the intermission where the emotions started to flow. They kicked it off with the instrumental of the aptly introduced "Kill, Kill the Wabbit" song, then moved into a series of songs from the stage of musical theatre, and oddly enough this is where I personally was most effected. The three tenors preforming that night each had perfect control over their instruments and were effortless performers which really shone in songs from Sweeny Todd and South Pacific (which was a favorite of my wifes late Grandfather, who used to roll around in his wheel chair ominously singing "Bali hiiiiiiiii" ) But it was a pinpoint perfect rendition of Agony from Sondheims "Into the Woods" which I will remember most from the evening, a song that is, in performance, one of the hands down funniest moments in theater of any kind, but in this setting was so emotional and heart breaking. The sheer perfection of harmony in the dual melodies and the precise word choice in the writing in a concert setting is really put into the forefront and the songwriting alone was enough to send a tear down the cheek, it might have been for the music alone, but what can i say, I fucking Love Sondheim. Breaking Bad just didn't seem so exciting after the show was over, maybe next week.

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