Theater geek in a theater city
Written by Katherine Shield (Tufts University)
I’m a theater geek in a theater city, and I am trying to take advantage of that as best I can. Last week, I bought $10 tickets to see Madame Butterfly in the National Opera, and this week, we were given tickets to see La Boehme. Then, over the weekend, I took Emma to see Swan Lake at the National Ballet. Unsurprisingly, all three shows were fantastic, and I can't wait to see more theater. There are so many things I want to say about both the ballet and the opera, so sorry if this post is a little discombobulated.
Until this trip, I’d only ever been to one opera. I went when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old with my neighbor, who had an extra ticket. I honestly don’t remember what show I saw, or really anything much about it, except that I didn’t like it very much. It was too hard for me to follow the story, and I didn’t have enough of a sense of the skills involved in performing the music to actually appreciate the talent.
This time, I am a bit older, a bit more experienced. I’ve been to a few (hundred?) more shows, including a number at the professional level. I’ve participated in enough shows to have an understanding of the work that goes into the performance, both visible and invisible, to respect the performance qualities regardless. And it definitely changed my perspective. I’m not going to say that I fell in love with the opera, because that isn’t true, but I could be talked into attending another one…
A big difference, and I think absolutely imperative, was that both these operas had subtitles, in both Czech and English. Subtitles meant I could follow along with the plot of the show, which really does make all the difference. Sometimes I closed my eyes and just listened, but I also often paid as much (if not more) attention to the subtitles as the actors, because I often tried to decipher the Czech subtitles, using my limited Czech knowledge. That was fun, and also exciting to see the difference that just one week of Czech classes made - I could definitely understand more of the Czech words and phrases in the second show than the first.
In terms of the shows themselves, Madame Butterfly was okay. It wasn't fantastic, and I had a really hard time getting over the stereotypical way the Japanese were portrayed. (If you don't know the plot, an American sailor marries a Japanese girl of 15 before leaving for the states. He returns three years later with an American wife and discovers that he has a Japanese son. His Japanese wife (Butterfly) kills herself and gives their son to the American and his American wife.) La Boehme, on the other hand, was fabulous. I loved the casting choices, and the actress playing Mimi was absolutely phenomenal. Also, I had no idea that Rent was based on La Boehme (though it makes a lot of sense, seeing the number of references that get made and all...). And then, of course, Swan Lake was gorgeous. I don't think I've ever seen the ballet, but I know the story, so it was easy to follow. Emma didn't understand the story at all, but she absolutely loved the dancing.
At the opera, we were sitting quite high, which many people may not have liked, but I loved. At Madame Butterfly, I was far house right, which meant that I could see a bit of the technical aspects of the show - I could see the spot ops and the actors' video feed of the conductor, which was fun. At La Boehme, I was sitting directly in front of the booth; though I couldn't see much in the booth, it was fun to see that all theaters, big or small, have the same materials in the booths. In the ballet, though, Emma and I got to sit in the front section, even though I didn't pay that much for tickets. Since Emma is so little, and was so excited, they let us sit somewhere from which she could see. We were in the fourth row center, with not a soul in front of us. It was fabulous!
We were so close that I could tell when the ballerinas were really tired, and I could see everything. It was a fabulous experience.
Perhaps my favorite part of the National Opera was the set designs. The stage has a rotating base, so the sets all rotate between acts. In La Boehme especially, I really loved the way they completely changed the setting of the space by rotating the stage around completely. I don't think many people noticed the design of the stage, but I really liked it.
I can't wait to see more theater, especially the Black Light Theater. But this is all for now!