Sunday, May 6, 2012

Opera Thoughts

My May Day really wasn't all sitting around this year! You've already read about the actual May Day with the wild concert at Seinäjoki... But the day before, May Day eve - the Finnish holiday solely dedicated to getting drunk and, if possible, having fun while doing so - I went to see something very different.
Me and my friend went to Turku, to Åbo Svenska Teater, to see Ooppera Skaala's touring production of Fitness Light Opera.

Our reasons for seeing it were less to do with admiring the artform and more to do with everything else: we wanted to revisit the theatre for old times' sake. It also helped Sören Lillkung (Javert in ÅST's Les Mis) was a part of the cast. I admit, however, that I wouldn't have seen it unless my friend couldn't have stayed in Turku for the night without me (a relative of mine has a handily situated apartment in Turku and she's generously letting me visit when needed). I didn't think dragging myself to see an opera in a town 200 kilometers away would be worth the trouble.

I've seen a handful of operas before.
First, when I was a kid, it was my mom's futile attempt at trying to force some general knowledge about different artforms into me: she sometimes took me to National Opera to see an opera or a ballet. Too bad for my mother's poor nerves that the only things I was really interested in were cake and lemonade during the intermission...
But lately, tables have turned: I've actually dragged my mom to the opera a couple of times. Operas, after all, are kind of like musicals' ancestors. Some musicals are even based on operas! With the amount of time I spend seeing and thinking about musical theatre, I keep feeling I should educate myself about opera every now and then, too...
The only downside is that I often get bored when sitting in National Opera's auditorium.

Well, it's not 100% bad... I greatly appreciate opera singers, for instance. I've no idea how human beings can sing like that, it's amazing! What's more - while I find some of the music a bit bland, I do enjoy some of it. I even have La bohème on CD.
But, as a whole, I find many of those old operas boring as tar. Even though the singers are impressive, the music is grand... It feels to me that a scene that'd take two minutes in a movie, play or musical lasts for at least fifteen minutes in an opera. It often seems to me that arias and duets take an eternity, that verses are repeated until you feel you could recite them in Italian yourself.
What adds to the misery is the feeling that most of the operas I've seen in Finland's National Opera haven't been strongly acted. I don't know, maybe it's because they perform an opera for a month, put the production away for five years and then do another month, with another cast... Maybe they just don't get enough time to get used to their roles? I don't know, but I'd surely love to see some stronger acting.

That brings me to what I liked about the light opera: there actually was some acting. Even though - there being no microphones - the cast sung facing the audiece even during duets, you mostly felt you're watching the people the story is about instead of singers trodding around onstage. Everybody also sung beautifully.
What's more, the light opera had a pretty nicely paced plot. The scenes moved like they would in a play or a musical, there weren't many unnecessary repeats. The plot, in a nutshell, was about a fat guy who wanted to date a popular girl but had to lose weight to attract her attention, and the way his diet affected him, his family and his friends. The story got rather silly by the second act, with the doping subplot kicking in, and the ending was a bit underwhelming, but at least you didn't have the time to get bored.
I also enjoyed the music. It was done in the style of baroque operas, and it was pretty fun to hear that kind of music with modern lyrics. I've never heard opera sung in Finnish before, and I got to say, it sounded pretty nice! I liked the way one of the characters sung in Swedish every now and then - it added comedy but also sounded interesting, being sung at the same time with Finnish.

My main problem with Fitness was what it looked like. There's no way around it: it was ugly, plain and simple.
I understand that in a touring production the sets have to be easy to move, but that doesn't mean they have to be sloppily painted with the least subtle colours imaginable. I also understand there mightn't have been too much money for the costume department to use - but I'm sure they could've come up with something slightly less cheap-looking. The visuals were somewhat distracting for me, it looked like no effort went into them whatsoever.

Altogether, I'm still unsure if dragging myself to a town 200 kilometers away to see an opera, even if it had its good aspects, was worth it.
At least it was interesting to compare the new opera that's done in baroque style to the actual old operas I've seen. Why are the old ones so slowly paced? Is it because, back then, they didn't have any way to listen to their favourite arias outside the opera house, so it was better everything was repeated right away? Or has our attention span become shorter in the couple of centuries that have passed in between the classic operas and the creation of Fitness? Or have I been seeing the most boring classics and traditional opera is actually both fun and exciting?
Or am I just reading too much into this, and the true answer is that everybody's simply not an opera person?

Photos by Jussi Aalto.


  1. I'm pretty much with you in this opera thing. I've tried it, I like to listen to some of the songs, but it's not really my kind of art form. I do enjoy operettas, they're closer to musicals and generally have faster-paced plots and a bit lighter music than operas, but the singing still gives me the same WHOA-effect.

    1. Maybe I should try seeing an operetta one day, I've never seen one of them...