Rigoletto, Joseph Stone Auditorium, Athlone, Cape Town, Until Tomorrow
Above: The cast (and orchestra) take a bow.
Last night I went to see the opera Rigoletto, Verdi's apparent masterpiece, at the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Klipfontein Road, Athlone, Cape Town. I ended up there as part of a little excursion that one of my friends, a fan of all things cultured, organised to introduce the ambivalent masses (most of the rest of us) to an aspect of culture we've all been avoiding - opera. Gah!
I'll try anything once, as long as it's vegetarian.
This interpretation is set in the present and features extensive use of multimedia - film projections, cellular phones, a video camera that captures a pivotal moment, soccer on DStv - which makes it much more accessible to an audience not used to opera, as does the location of the venue. Not only that, but they gangstered it up, complete with a raunchy opening scene that's set in a night club, and then later skanked it up as the amorous duke makes moves on the assassin's sister. I loved it!
Even if you know nothing about Rigotello you'll recognise the music. One of the most famous pieces has often been used in advertising, amongst other things, though the lyrics are all about how fickle women are.
The opening scene is a visual feast, with so much going on you don't know where to look, especially when you realise that there are subtitles* being projected above the stage and you won't be completely lost after the first five minutes.
Well, sort of. A few minutes into the second act the subtitles went into hibernation - literally. The projection system suddenly flashed the word "hibernate" in small letters and then switched off, leaving us in the dark. By the end of the act I was so confused I started feeling sleepy - my brain's way perhaps, of trying to protect my sanity. I totally understand the cliche of wives that drag their husbands to the opera who then fall asleep - if you don't have subtitles you're doomed (I know you're supposed to be focussed on the music, but seriously!). Unfortunately it doesn't matter how well you emote (and they emoted well) - if I don't have words I can understand or a synopsis to cling to I am lost.
To avert impending disaster, out came the cellular phone during the second interval, much to the surprise of one of my friends as I do not own one and have to keep reminding everyone of that fact every time they express some misplaced desire to want to contact me, which is always met with incredulous indignation (from them and me). But I test phones, a lot, so I occasionally have one on hand, although it is never on and I do my best not to use it, except in emergencies - and man, this was an emergency! I went straight to Wikipedia and found what I was looking for, and then a number of us huddled around the screen reading the synopsis lest the subtitles were never to return and we would be left floundering in waves of well-emoted operatic Italian that would be as meaningful as Paris Hilton's thoughts on, well, anything, while the queen in the front row shouted "Bravo!" at every opportunity and some guy in the back cheered loudly in seemingly odd places, the reasons for which would be lost on me.
The third act started and - gloriously - the subtitles returned. I was relieved. I had my live text. I had my synopsis. I knew what was going on. I could survive opera.
The staging of the third act was marvellous, with great effects simulating lightning and thunder and the voices of the chorus drifting to us from back stage as though the sound was riding the thunderstorm, although the story, itself, is a little daft and, as one friend remarked, "If you take out all the singing you could probably fit the whole story on a page."
At the end we gave them a standing ovation, which I'm not particularly fond of - not because I don't think it's deserved, but because I don't really like to stand. Or ovate. I clapped extra hard for the orchestra, which was never seen, just heard, as it was stuffed away, out of sight, beneath the stage, as orchestras tend to be. That must suck.
There is only one more performance of Rigoletto - tomorrow night at 19:30 - and I highly recommend it. Just learn from my mistake and do your homework first so you can follow what's going on. Tickets cost R50 and you can book through Computicket - make sure not to pick a seat too close to the front or you will hurt your neck reading all night.
*I know! Seriously! Subtitles!
(Ok, technically they're called "surtitles", but let's not get into that.)
By the way, the subtitles were in Helvetica, but more on that next week or so.