A recurring theme in my life, especially over the past five years, is that I don’t make enough time for fun. But yesterday, I did. I spent the whole day with Deborah Blake, a writer friend who lives about two hours from me, and we went to the Glimmerglass Festival to see the opera Aida.
I got the idea several months ago. Tickets were already going fast. I’m a Verdi fanatic and had enjoyed the Glimmerglass production of La Traviata a couple of years ago. Deb lives about half an hour from the festival, so I thought it would be a good chance to get together, talk writing, and see the opera. We made plans, I bought tickets, and we were committed!
It was a great day. The weather cooperated (thunderstorms were forecast, but the rain didn’t start until I was back in my driveway at the end of the day), so Deb and I got to enjoy a picnic lunch, complete with glasses of sparkling wine, on the festivals grounds. We talked about writing–including our plans for future books and series–and got caught up with each other’s lives. (We both seem to have a problem getting out of the house and doing the fun stuff.)
Then, the opera. One of my favorite moments is when the lights are down, the conductor’s entrance has been applauded, and the first notes of the orchestra swell through the auditorium. It’s a moment so full of promise, it always gives me a chill. And yesterday’s performance lived up to that promise. The cast, mostly young, up-and-coming singers, showed me that there are exciting times ahead in Verdi singing. There wasn’t a single weak link. I particularly enjoyed the Aida of Michelle Johnson, one of the winners of the 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council competition.
The production was a weird mishmash of ancient and modern. Aida is set in ancient Egypt, when that country is at war with Ethiopia. The love story is set against this backdrop of war and conflicting loyalties. Aida, an Ethiopian slave, is actually a princess, unbeknownst to her captors. She’s in love with Radames, the leader of the Egyptian army, who also loves her. Their relationship is complicated by the fact that the Egyptian princess, Amneris, also loves Radames. To my mind, the story is a universal one of love, conflicting loyalties, betrayal, and regret. We can watch it unfold in ancient Egypt and feel the characters’ emotions strongly in that setting. It doesn’t require updating to make it “relevant”–it already is.
That said, the production didn’t do much harm to the story, even though it didn’t add anything, either. There was a comical moment when the “sacred weapon” given by a priest of Isis to Radames turned out to be a gold-spray-painted machine gun. And the director, unfortunately, didn’t seem to trust the music to carry the drama. There was often too much “busy-ness” happening onstage at moments when the music called for a focus on a character’s quiet reflection. To me, not trusting the music is the greatest failing of modern opera directors. Because the music always tells you everything you need to know.
Still, my quibbles with the production were minor and what I was there for–the music–was wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The day was fun and renewing, and the company was great. I’m going to have to find more opportunities to get out and play!