Friday, January 23, 2009

Ghetto Libretto

I love the opera.

It the same drama you see on “Springer” or “Maury” with better costumes and vocals.

Fortunately for me and other thousands of opera buffs in Chicago, we happen to be blessed with the Lyric and its beautiful opera house on Wacker Drive.

I also happened to get blessed with a ticket from time to time.

While I love the opera on its own merits---the lush productions, the timelessness of the stories and the beauty of the music; the thing that really chaps my hide is the overt misogyny in most of the classic works.

Usually the lead female role is the naive ingénue, scheming whore or general all around victim.

Life happens to her. She rarely gets to determine her fate---which when you think about it was indicative of the times the operas were written---meekly bowing to the wills and needs of others.

...Or plotting to have them killed exiled or otherwise pushed out of the picture.

Frankly, I call bullshit on these one dimensional broads.

‘Cause it just churns my butter to see women so grossly misrepresented in the name of high art.

Think about it---Someone shelled out alot of money for that ticket. If you want to see women stereotyped, dominated or run down there are many vehicles within our popular culture where you can see that for free.

$135.00 a ticket is a bit much, no?


So it was with this mindset that I walked into a recent production of Madame Butterfly.

I knew the general plot and had heard some of the music from the beloved Puccini work but had never seen it in person.

And no I hadn’t seen Miss Saigon.

I still tried to keep an open mind---raising my objections to yet another opera where the woman gets the short end of the stick to my opera buddy.

My opera buddy is a kind and patient man who puts up with commentary like:

Gilbert & Sullivan---“Gay! I love every gay minute with those sailors. I wonder who’s the top in this relationship?”

Wagner’s Ring Cycle---“So I spent how much money to see drama caused by a horny dwarf ? Everyone in this story is 100% bat shit crazy.You’ve got to be kidding me right? Hitler loved this stuff? No wonder the Nazi's lost the war.

Note: This is when I had a full time job and money.

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci (better know as Cav/Pag)---“Laugh clown! Laugh!”

Aida---“I can already see the look on her parent’s face.”

Lulu---"I've got porn cleaner than this.

Usually, I sit quasi grumbling through the Acts, as the drama unfolds below. All I can say is thank God for the English subtitles.

But its opera and it’s beautiful so I go.

And I sit.

And I absorb.

And I learn.

Do not even get me started on how long it took me NOT to talk back to the stage.

And all was well until I saw the following discourse from the opera Madame Butterfly between B.F. Pinkerton the American Sailor and bridegroom and Sharpless, a counsel at the American embassy in Nagasaki:

With echoes of the Star Spangled Banner, Pinkerton tells Sharpless that, throughout the world, the Yankee wanderer is not satisfied until he captures the flowers of every shore and the love of every beautiful woman. “So I am marrying in the Japanese style: for 999 years, but with the right to cancel the marriage each month”. Sharpless is critical of Pinkerton’s beliefs, but they stand and agree, “America forever”. Pinkerton tells Goro to bring Butterfly to him. When Goro leaves, Sharpless asks Pinkerton if he is really in love.

Pinkerton admits to Sharpless that he does not know whether he is really in love or just infatuated, but he is bewitched with Butterfly’s innocence, charm and beauty, like a butterfly fluttering around and then landing with silent grace, so beautiful “that I must have her, even though I injure her butterfly wings”. Sharpless tells Pinkerton that he heard Butterfly speak, when she visited the Consulate, and he asks Pinkerton not to pluck off her delicate wings. However, Pinkerton tells Sharpless that he will do “no great harm, even if Butterfly falls in love.” Sharpless takes his glass of whisky and offers a toast to Pinkerton’s family at home, to which Pinkerton adds, “and to the day when I will have a real wedding and marry a real American bride.”

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Oh hell no.

Oh hell-to-the-no.

Oooh wheee…

And then Sharpless asks Butterfly how old she is.


I thought I was gonna come out of my seat and put the funky beat down on Pinkerton.

The last thing a pre-menstrual, single, gimped up 40 year old woman needs to (or wants to) see is a young woman child going into a train wreck.

Around these parts we call that the Drew Peterson syndrome.

The neck rolling, teeth sucking and eye rolling was monumental.

I was so pissed.

Not just railing as usual, but actually pissed.

I was so pissed I was my Sam Adams straight from the bottle AT THE OPERA!

During the intermission the nice lady behind me said, “Dear, you know its make believe? Right?”

Clearly I was having a psychotic break.

You see Butterfly really did love him. When she sang Un bel di I was in tears.

Child, I was the hottest mess in Chicago.

I was such a hot mess that I had to leave before the opera was over.

I’m such no one wanted to read the headline, “Crazed Black Woman shoots Lyric Tenor After Break With Reality.”

But I really do have a purpose for telling this story.

Other than the fact I’ll be really scared for anyone who meets me when I’m going through menopause (Which really isn’t too far off when you think about it.)

While I have my issues with some operas, it’s certainly well worth the experience.

Prohibitive costs aside; everyone should have a chance to see great art.
If you haven’t noticed, our country has slipped into a tad of a cultural abyss.

In the early 90’s school boards across the country sacrificed gym, recess, music and art to balance their budgets.

Now we’ve got a country of slovenly rubes that identify the “Ride of the Valkyries” as the Blues Brother’s song.

My bad, if you were a child born in the early 90’s you wouldn’t know that.

Let me try again---Now we’ve got a country of slovenly rubes that identify the “Ride of the Valkyries” as the song from the Hyundai commercial.

Sweet Baby Jesus.

But there is one man who’s making a difference.

The effervescent Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun Times is trying to turn the tide of dumbassness and cultural ignorance by giving away 100 tickets to Pagliacci & Cavalleria Rusticana on February 18th.

Granted, the clown is crazy and I think he pushes his poor put upon wife into cheating on him, but that’s just my opinion.

If you want to know what I’m talking about, go see the production or pray that luck is on your side and you win a ticket.

But whatever you do, don’t yell out “Laugh, clown! Laugh!”


Erin said...

oh my god. this post was pure genius. so, so awesome.

gogomama said...

Once again, you nailed it. You express yourself so beautifully. I attended a university with a very fine music school, specializing in opera. The women I knew who studied voice yearned to sing this music, but admitted they hated the roles. The men owned up to it too. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to just _learn_ a role. At $130 a pop to see standard repertoire, you probably understand how hard it is to get anything with a more contemporary outlook staged. I hope your music-lovin' readers have heard about the new opera initiative over at the South Shore Cultural Center:

araon said...

Thank you very much for your kind words (and an excellent blog post)!
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