Monday, October 25, 2004

Escamillo, I Challenge You to Claw-Plach! *snapsnapsnapsnap*

I think I will be able to live the rest of my life happily without ever seeing Carmen again. I mean, musically, it’s fine, a little hackneyed now, of course, but fine. Crowd-pleasing, but a bit long unless the acting is really good. But I’ve seen it three times live now, and I'm thoroughly sick of it. Maybe it's because I’ve run the gamut of possible Carmen-seeing experiences now. The first time I saw it was at the Met in 2000, and then I saw Roberto Alagna, probably the best Don José currently singing the role, and he was shirtless on top of the good singing and the amazing acting. Olga Borodina was Carmen in that production, and she has a beautiful, sensuous, sexy voice that’s perfect for Carmen, in addition to having a very pretty face. René Pape played Escamillo and sang well and was acrobatic and all that. It was a great Carmen experience.

Then, about a week later, we went to see Carmen again at the asstastic Orange County–based Opera Pacific. The production was kind of blah, the singers were boring and kind of dumpy, the orchestra sounded like a junior high school band in comparison to the Met Orchestra. But the worst part was the horrible, farty smell that pervaded the entire balcony section where we were sitting. It was probably someone’s leaky colostomy bag, and it smelled so bad that the people sitting next to us had to choose between staying to watch the opera and barfing everywhere and leaving. They left. I had to sit through the opera clutching a Kleenex soaked in waterless antibacterial hand cleaner to my nose. So that was my horrible Carmen experience.

Saturday was just a mediocre Carmen experience. There wasn’t a shit smell (until someone near us ripped one off during the applause), but there wasn’t a shirtless Alagna either. We were seeing the B cast, and they were the B-est B cast that ever B-ed. I can’t even remember the names of the singers who played Don José, Micaëla or Escamillo. The scenery was OK, pretty standard Carmen stuff. The best sets were the Seville sets, which were kind of sunbleached and sherbety-looking. The costumes, as is usually the case with LA Opera, were kind of befuddling. A bunch of kids in the children’s chorus (or the Nail-on-Chalkboard Brigade, as I like to call them) were wearing handkerchiefs on their heads like Mr. Gumby. Actually, I think an all-Gumby Chorus would’ve sounded better than the kids. The soldiers had nice, streamlined, plain costumes, not all covered in epaulets where there aren’t even shoulders and gold braid and crap like that. All the cigarette factory girls were wearing corsets and raggedy skirts, so I thought it was supposed to take place back when women still wore boned corsets. I guess I was wrong, because there were also a bunch of guys strolling around in white linen suits with matching fedora-y hats (they later put on white linen skirts for some reason), and then in the last act, there were guys wearing t-shirts and sneakers. The fuck? Micaëla was dressed in kind of an Edwardian coatdress thing, but later when she was looking for Don José, she had on something that looked like a slipcover for a gigantic couch. Escamillo, instead of wearing bull-fighter’s clothes, looked like he was ready to play back-up conga drum in the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra at the Tropicana, and later, he looked like a Cub Scout.

But there are plenty of What the Fuck? moments in general at the LA Opera. Every production seems to have one. Like in La Traviata a few years ago, while Violetta was dying, this stupid Mr. Hyde-like character came out and carried her around the stage. And in Idomeneo a few weeks ago, they had that pointless, copulating-dogs-stuck-together ballet. In Carmen, they had a drag queen playing the tavern owner Lilas Pastia. In the program, I thought it was a poor unfortunate woman who didn’t know how to do her makeup, but it was a drag queen. I guess it was kind of funny when he pulled his long, curly wig off, but it was just pointless. Lilas Pastia is a non-speaking, non-singing role. Why bother?

The guy who played Don José got better as the opera went on, and had a few Placido-Domingo-esque moments. Not necessarily Domingo on a good day, but Domingo-esque all the same. His acting turned out to be OK. During the intermission, my mom leaned over to me and asked why his eyebrows looked like Spock’s. I said, “I don’t know. He’s not acting very logically. Maybe this is like that episode of Star Trek where Spock went all crazy with the desire to mate and punched Kirk?” Then my mom proved her geek pedigree by remembering the name for Spock’s fine-imported-Vulcan-booty lust.

The woman who played Micaëla probably had the best voice of all the principals, but it wasn’t sweet enough for a Micaëla. She sounded too old, and she looked like when on Facts of Life they’d do those episodes that showed the girls in the future, and Natalie would always have a long braid. I wondered why she didn’t just drop José and do some hot sapphic tapping of Tootie’s ass. But I guess you can’t expect much from someone wearing a slipcover. Escamillo was just kind of meh. He looked like Mickey Dolenz with a better haircut.

When did it become sexy to sit with your legs wide-open? Did I miss something? All the cigarette factory girls (especially Carmen) sat around with their legs in a gynecologically ready position when they were onstage. I started to think that they were smoking to cover up the snatch smell. Catherine Malfitano, as Carmen, took this one step further, and stood with her legs wide apart throughout the whole opera, so it always looked like she was about to have a wee on the floor. Sometimes, she’d mix it up by doing an Ogra-from-Dark-Crystal-like squat. Malfitano’s voice just isn’t right for Carmen. She’s too old, for a start, and she’s gained a lot of weight, so her boobies are bigger than her head (and she had a mean case of quadraboob; they were popping out of her dress like veiny dough overflowing a baking pan) and, as my mom said, her hips are an axe-handle across. It was kind of cute when she was sitting with her arms tied behind her back and leaned over to drag her skirt up her leg with her teeth, but the leg she exposed looked like one of those nasty German sausages with the white casing. She was passable in the first two acts, because she was wearing attractive red dresses and had her hair down, but later, she looked dumpy and mannish, swathed in a huge coat, her hair twisted up into a bun (the Legz Akimbo stance didn’t help with the femininity either). I got irritated with myself for thinking stuff like that, because in opera, looks really shouldn’t matter, it’s about the voice. But that was the problem. She didn’t have a pretty or sexy voice either. There was just nothing alluring about her, so it was just baffling why so many men were going so mad for her. I hope they had an ample Y-shaped coffin to bury her in after Don José stabbed her (the man with the flair for the obvious who sits behind me helpfully said: “She’s dead” after José knifed her and dropped her on the floor). Smell ya later, Carmen, smell ya later forever.

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