Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Celeste Aida

The Triumphal March aka The Graduation March from Verdi's Aida.
This of all tunes should sound familiar to anyone who's ever graduated high school.

We spent the night at the opera last night.

Well, not exactly, but close enough. 

Quite by chance, I managed to stumble across a one-night only listing for an HD screening of Verdi's Aida at the CCP's Bulwagang Gantimpala. Starved by the summer hiatus (the next big event at CCP will be the stage version of Dirty Dancing, which won't happen until July), I was eager to see Verdi's classic, my interest piqued by the novelty of watching it in HD and curious to see how lavishly the Met - that apotheosis of New York arts & culture - would stage it.

And so it was that my young date and I found ourselves amid a chi chi - if modest -gathering of predominantly old people last night, who looked at him with a mixture of pleasant delight and bemusement. The clear demographics of the crowd seemed to confirm the stereotypes that opera is 1.) only for the rich, and 2.) only for the old.

Neither of which my date and I were.

  Sing it, girl.

It was a very telling overture to the gist of what CCP VP and Artistic DIrector Chris Millado would say in his opening remarks, just before the screening. Opera is an artistic endeavour that some consider the pinnacle of musical expression. As such, opera is also the Everest of expense when it comes to staging and production. As Millado jokingly pointed out, an opera ticket to the Met would cost you Euro 50.00 or $25.00 - while the tickets to that night's screening at the CCP set me back a paltry P500.00* each. And on a less hilarious note, Millado also pointed out the sad fact that ticket sales contribute less than 50% to a show's take, which is why the arts - the performing arts, in particular - are perennially in need of corporate sponsors and private benefactors, much more than public support.

The night's presentation of the The Metropolitan's Aida in HD was, in fact, the first in a series of opera screenings that the CCP has embarked upon. An effort, as Millado remarked, to bring opera to a new and different kind of audience. A younger audience, it went without saying. A new generation that will hopefully support, not just the CCP, but artistic productions and art in general.

"I'm sorry that you/Seem to be confused/
He belongs to me/The boy is mine."

Speaking of that new target audience, I was afraid my 25-year old would be catatonic throughout the 3.5-hour screening, but remembered that we weren't strapped into Wagner** and his epic 24-hour snorefests. And quelle, quelle surprise! The kid actually got into the story (admittedly, I had given him the Cliff's Notes beforehand that Aida was basically your standard bizarre love triangle - but with more singing.) Presently, he was enthusiastically clapping after the bravura performances of the stellar cast led by Ukrainian diva Liudmyla Monastyrska as the Ethiopian princess/slave Aida; Russian diva and Met regular Olga Borodina as the vengeful Egyptian princess Amneris; and Italian tenor Roberto Alagna as Radamés, the Egyptian general who stole both women's hearts. 

"What can I say? Bitches love a man in uniform."

It did feel kind of weird to applaud a screening, especially when no one else in the theater seemed to. But it also felt weird not to, especially after witnessing such excellent, moving performances. So we settled for a little compromise and kept our applause to teensy-weensy claps at lap level.

There were some bonus backstage footage of the Met during the three intermissions, hosted by Met soprano Renee Fleming, which kept me in a dilemma: should I relieve my bladder or should I stay and watch the magic behind the scenes? Instead of a quick leak, I opted for the sneak peek at the workings of the magical Met machine, and was handsomely rewarded with trivia, interviews with the cast, and an insider look at the clockwork efficiency of the Met's stage management.

We left The Met's Aida in HD almost as satisfied as we might have been had we been elbow-to-elbow with New York's culturati

I wish CCP well regarding this new attempt to bring opera to a broader audience, and am looking forward to their next opera screening: Rigoletto in April.

Till then, let the fat ladies keep on singing.

Spoiler: the star-crossed lovers die, entombed alive beneath the temple.
What? Did you think it was gonna be a happy ending?


*P250.00 for students. So there.

**Aida was initially offered to Verdi's rival Wagner, who rejected it presumably because 3 hours was too short for him. Wagner doesn't get out of bed to write operas that run for less than 12 hours.

I kid, I kid.


  1. Ooh! I badly want to see that one but I hate that they shown it on a Tuesday!

    I loved Aida only after I heard a 1950 bootleg of the Great Maria Callas crushing her egoistic Radames with a supersonic high E-flat at the end of the triumphal march.

    Next month's Rigoletto is a must see as well. It would be interesting to see Damrau (with her post-pregnancy weight) playing a naive 16 year old Gilda hehe ;)

    1. Well, hehe, opera's damsels, ingenués, and heroines have always been on the heavy side, so I don't think I'll be having too much of a problem suspending my disbelief ;)

      Can't wait for Rigoletto aka The Hunchback of Mantua. :D La Donna e Mobile and Caro Nome were two of the earliest arias I grew up on, and it'll be sweet to see and hear them sung within an actual production.

    2. Haha it's not that I'm against overweight Sopranos, I'm just used to seeing a normal sized Diana Damrau.

      But I'm really glad CCP finally brought MET Opera HD Broadcasts here. After Rigoletto, they'll also be showing L'Elsir D'amore, Maria Stuarda and the Tempest ;)

    3. I thought Damrau's performance of Der Hölle Rache was the best ever - big girl or no big girl. But she seems more suited for big, dramatic roles like the Queen of the Night rather than more subdued, delicate roles such as Gilda.

      And I see that after Verdi, we'll be having a Donizetti festival. I'm not too familiar with his oeuvre so this should be an interesting experience. Maria Stuarda in particular, as I love, love, love a good historical costume drama.

      And The Tempest as an opera is a pretty new (2004) creation, as well.

  2. I didn't make it last Tuesday. I chose rest since I was drunk from Saturday to Monday and I had work until 6:00pm. I hope I can make it to Rigoletto.
    So anyway, you mentioned Dirty Dancing. That I can't wait to see. After all, it was hinted in a report from our online news site that Wicked may follow suit. I still can't get over the fact that I was too poor to travel to Singapore the last time it was shown there.
    Going back to Aida. I think it's sad that people were not applauding although I understand the off feeling. But during the premiere screening of Les Miserables that I attended, people not only did clap, they even threw a standing ovation. So I guess it still depends.
    Lastly, I think you're being modest. You belong to number one of the demographics :p

    1. Ah! So there may be some truth to the rumor after all, db! Alas, unlike you, I'm not really keen on seeing Dirty Dancing, but if its success is pivotal to the local staging of Wicked - which I adore - then I may have to change my position on the show.

      The careening train wreck called Les Mis did cross my mind, re the "people not applauding the screening of The Met's Aida in HD." I really can't place why the night's audience didn't collectively applaud at the end of the screening, at least, if not after every significant number. Perhaps the oldies felt a little awkward about applauding a "movie" over the real thing? It's a puzzlement, indeed, and I hope by the time we get to Rigoletto next month, people won't be so shy about giving applause where applause is due.

      And I do hope you can make it there, db ;)

      As for your opinion about my place in the demographics, I'll just say that, like any normal human being, I'd rather be rich than old :D. Not that I'm saying I'm either.

  3. ang sosyal.

    i have yet to see a live opera performance. and i guess if i'm going to watch one i have to get a copy of the english translation of the lyrics(?) to be sung before watching the performances.

    1. "Sosyal"

      Now there's a word.

      I'm not going to play the modesty card and say opera, like ballet, isn't a patrician form of entertainment. That would be patronising. And I will admit that not everyone who goes to the opera is there out of a sincere appreciation of the arts. As the delightfully-wicked exchange in Dangerous Liaisons attests:

      Marquise de Merteuil: Tell us we should think of the opera.
      Chevalier Danceny : Oh, it's sublime, don't you find?
      Marquise de Merteuil: Monsieur Danceny is one of those rare eccentrics who come here to listen to the music.

      Having said that, I do believe in Chris Millado's campaign to bring opera to a wider audience. It is a daunting task, given that all the arts are a luxury anywhere, even in Europe, especially when compared to the daily business of earning a living.

      But in the same way that Lisa Macuja's ongoing mission to bring ballet to the people has started gaining inroads, I'm confident that, given time and a more aggressive marketing push, we just might see people other than bored rich matrons and their unwilling husbands enjoying the sublime beauty of a night at the opera.

    2. the closest thing to opera that i have access to is probably watching/listening to Fides Cuyugan Asensio in those late 80s/early 90s late night TV musical shows.

      i hope Mr. Millado will be successful in this goal of his. majority of Filipinos should get an appreciation of the theater arts more than watching silly noon-time / Sunday variety shows. UGH!

    3. While I believe lowbrow and highbrow forms of entertainment have their uses and can coexist, I'll have to agree that the balance is tipped in favor of the noontime variety show kind.

      And since balance must be restored to the Force, we need a little more of the finer arts. Pop is pop, but there's a reason the classics are called classics, too.