I was really excited about this, partly because it meant dressing up and pretending to be cultured(!), and partly because it’s the very first item I can cross off my bucket list! It was a spur of the moment thing as well; my mum was meant to be going to London this week but when that fell through I thought she might enjoy going out in Swansea instead and checked what was on in the theatre. Fate must have been willing it, because I spotted ‘A Night at the Opera’ and decided it would be the perfect way to give mum a nice night out while crossing an item off my list.
“London Festival Opera returns to the Grand Theatre for a new A Night at the Opera production. The company brings together world class artists who have appeared with major opera companies including the Royal Opera, English National Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera. A Night at the Opera is a thrilling programme of works by Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Rossini, Bizet, Offenbach and more. The artists will appear in sumptuous Victorian evening dress recreating the atmosphere and grandeur of past times and will be accompanied by a select chamber ensemble. A programme of passion, drama and humour for all opera lovers – and an ideal first time visit to the opera! London Festival Opera has presented performances throughout the UK and Europe including in one of the world’s greatest opera houses, La Fenice in Venice.”
I’ve never seen anything remotely operatic before – I’ve never even seen a musical performed live – and so “an ideal first time visit” sounded good to me. Instead of watching a complete opera, we were going to see pieces performed from selected works and I thought this would give me a good idea of what I might want to see in its entirety at a later date.
I was actually really nervous about what I was going to wear; I’m not a girly girl and it’s a rarity for me to be seen in a skirt. Now I had to look elegant! After trying on everything else in my wardrobe I settled on a long gothic gown in black velvet with a red highlight in the front panel. Mum had already bought me a fab black suede coat for Christmas and she brought it round so I could wear it for our opera scene debut! I was convinced I would either be horribly overdressed or hideously underdressed.
When we arrived I felt terribly self-conscious and out of place. If I hadn’t been there I thought my mother would have been the youngest person in the place; everyone else seemed to have grey hair and perfume that smelled like soap! Still, after spotting a youngster in her fifties who was wearing a sparkling gown and fur stole, I relaxed a bit about my own dress.
We had an extremely quick drink in the Footlights bar before heading in to the theatre itself. I managed to snap a quick pic before the lights went down, but put my camera away when it started since you’re not allowed to take photos during the show. Mum thought she could get away with sneakily using her phone, but got told off by an usher. Oops!
In the first half of the show the performers did appear in the promised ‘sumptuous Victorian evening dress’, switching to equally gorgeous modern dresses for the second half. There were six singers altogether; two sopranos, a mezzo-soprano, a tenor and two baritones. I much preferred the female singers to the men; I found their voices far more impressive, and they gave a better all round performance in my opinion. There were a couple of pieces I recognised – “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre” or the Toreador song from Carmen and “Sous le dôme épais” or the Flower Duet from Lakmé – and it was lovely to see them performed live. I’m not in a position to make critical judgements, but mum assured me that the Flower Duet in particular was the best she’d heard.
I think I preferred the women to the men because they were much more expressive and emotive in their singing. The baritone Phillip Blake-Jones was my favourite of the men because he was also the artistic director and gave you an introduction to each piece that was about to be performed, and so when he was singing I felt more connnected to him. Given that most of the pieces are not in English and I’m unfamiliar with the stories of each opera, I thought the ladies did a better job of helping me to understand what they were saying by their gestures and expressions.
I had two quibbles with my night at the opera; firstly I hate the whole “oh, I have seen one picture of this girl and now I am crazy in love with her” – “woe is me, the man I love doesn’t love me, life is not worth living” thing. I would refuse to have anything to do with a man who decided he loved me based on a single picture; that’s not romance, that’s greed. That’s how I go shoe shopping; I see a picture, think it’s beautiful and decide I must have it! I don’t need the shoe; it’s not a sensible shoe; I have nothing to wear with it, but nonetheless I must own it. I don’t want a relationship based on the same motives. Don’t these women have any self-respect?
My other quibble was the only part of the evening I didn’t like, and it was nothing to do with the show. We had seats in the Grand Circle, right in the middle and four rows back from the front. Mum was sat next to a family that I was thrilled to see included someone my age. I, however, was sat next to a fat old man who sniffed the whole way through the entire evening. And it wasn’t a dry sniff. It was a wet sniff that I could hear hit the back of his throat before he hacked it back up into his mouth and swallowed it. Audibly. *shudder* It somewhat distracted from the glamour of the evening.
Overall though I’m very glad that I went. Stewart was secretly hoping I’d hate it; he said if it had been in a sitcom I’d have gotten all dressed up with the intention of taking in some culture, only to loathe it from start to end, and come home to finish a bottle of wine. If I’m completely honest, when the show began I did wonder to myself whether or not I was going to enjoy myself or simply be stuck there for two hours cursing my so-called good idea. As it turns out the two hours felt more like 30 minutes, and I’d definitely like to go again, but not to see a tragic romance. They performed a few Gilbert & Sullivan songs at the end which I liked both for the comedy and for the English. I think I might enjoy seeing Pirates of Penzance, for the Major-General’s song if nothing else.
I’m not sure that anything will make me laugh more than the encore piece they did last night though; “The Cat Opera”. Imagine if you will, three beautiful ladies in flowing evening gowns, and three solemn suited gentlemen standing on stage while the music starts, then opening their mouths and… meowing. The littlest soprano, Natasha Jouhl, kept breaking off into a rising kitty solo before being indignantly hissed at by the other two ladies, and the tenor would give a long dramatic meoooooow, echoed chirpily by the two baritones. A great laugh and a lovely way to finish.