Oy, The Italians Are At It Again

Sometimes my friends do amazing things for me that I in no way deserve.

I got an early birthday present this weekend: my first opera.

Now, considering the fact that I was lecturing them at intermission about the history of opera, the life of Puccini, and the backstory of this opera in particular, it’s bizarre and shameful that I’ve never been. I used to beg my father to take me to Wagner’s Ring cycle when I was a kid–precocious, yes, but what are you gonna do? And he always said Wagner was too “heavy” for my first opera, with the result that I never got to go to any other ones, either. I’ve seen musicals out my ears and poorly-conceived Apollinaire sung instead of spoken, but never opera.

And Turandot, besides being classic fairy tale stuff, contains some of my favorite music of all time, despite being unfinished, so it is, actually, my favorite opera.

And grailquestion and godlyperspectiv sat me in the fifth freaking row. I could see the actors sweat and gulp and blink and chorus members look askance for cues. It was amazing. Cleveland Opera put on a fantastic, lavish production with sets and lighting that were literally jaw-dropping, and extremely memorable performances, particularly by the woman who played Liu and the men who played the comic-relief courtiers, Ping, Pang, and Pong. (Surprisingly, there were a number of actually Asian performers, including all but Pang, I believe, of the aforementioned. They were all in second or third tier roles, but they were also among the best of the cast–Kim, who played Liu, is going to be a star, I can tell you now. She’s young and this was her debut with this company, but she’s going places. She completely filled a pretty passive and thankless role, and got a huge response from the audience. I want to see her play Turandot. And it turns out that, I think Ping? Hard to keep those charming names straight. Ping played Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly at one point–which is a fascinating casting choice and I really would have liked to see that production.)

Turandot herself was passable–it’s a very difficult role. I just couldn’t help wishing she and Kim were flip-flopped. I teared up during Nessun Dorma–shut up, I know everyone loves it, but it’s my favorite aria and the set was so unbelievable and it was so beautiful. The libretto was fantastic and kind of nihilist and modernist, extremely beautiful imagery and extremely interesting philosophical jumping jacks. You have to seriously suspend your sensibilities to buy all the love at first sight stuff, and I’d LOVE to see an adaptation of the story with a realistic tweak of the plot, where the fact that she falls in love with one kiss is perhaps explained by the fact that the divine Miss T had never actually been touched before in her life, due to being a god on earth, and was overcome by the simple contact of skin on skin…and probably tongue. And where we discuss how in fact Turandot is a seriously crazy serial killer with grandma issues. Yes, she is.

Plus, I got to wear a  burgundy velvet dress slit down to whoa and an actual, honest to god tiara.

In which outfit we then went to a cheesy 24 hour diner to discuss the show and eat buffalo wings. Sacred and the profane, baby.

Best birthday present ever. I still can’t really believe they did all that for me, that they remembered a conversation six months past where I said I had never been to the opera, and another where I said I loved Turandot, and actually put that whole evening together. Those two are some humans. Thank you so much, guys.

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