For each new show it opens, the Minnesota Opera invites local bloggers to a full dress rehearsal. The Black Hat Collective of cartoonists and I make it our mission to interpret each show in cartoons and drawings, then post them online.
Last Thursday’s show was the immortal:
Part of the reason I didn’t do a blog for the MN Opera’s last production, Lucia Di Lammermoore, is because I was often too interested in what was happening onstage to draw! That’s a good problem to have. The same problem came up a lot on Madame Butterfly. It has a very rich story, complex and expressive characters, and lots of background info to deal with. I’ll be walking you through Madame Butterfly in the most enlightening way I can —with words, videos, jokes, drawings, and photos. -
The Opera opens on B.F. Pinkerton, a selfish American Naval Lieutenant, who has rented a house in Nagasaki from a shifty marriage broker named Goro. Pinkerton is amazed by the sliding doors and rice-paper walls.
Pinkerton’s deal with Goro cost him 100 yen ($50 in 1905 and about $1300 today) for the next 999 years. The deal also includes 3 servants, including a maid named Suzuki, and a beautiful geisha wife, named Cho-Cho-San —which means “Madame Butterfly.”
One of the first things Pinkerton does is disrespect Suzuki and say that women talk too much. Then he ignores Goro’s warning that Cho-Cho-San has an uncle who opposes the wedding because he is a “Bonze” (AKA a Bhikkhu or Buddhist priest).
The American consul to Japan, Mr. Sharpless, visits Pinkerton. While remaining friendly with his countryman, Sharpless tries to emphasize that this marriage is not a good idea. Pinkerton retorts that he is allowed to cancel both the rental and the marriage at any time with 30 days notice. This is great from Pinkerton’s perspective because he can enjoy a short period of attachment-free romance and go on his merry way, and he remarks, “The contracts in this country are as flexible as the walls!”
Puccini uses The Star-Spangled Banner as a leitmotif for Pinkerton, and references to America in general. His use of distinct cultural melodies is not subtle, it’s awesome!
Sharpless tries to stress that Pinkerton’s plan is wrong, saying that he’s seen Cho-Cho-San around town and considers her a deep and sensitive person. He warns, “Play this game and you’ll break a trusting heart!”
Pinkerton’s response is basically “shut up old man you don’t know what love is.” Pinkerton exclaims, “I must possess her, even if her wings are torn and broken,” before turning around to say, “Now let’s toast to the day where I marry a REAL bride, in AMERICA!”
Cho-Cho-San finally arrives with her entourage - a whole extended family in beautiful Japanese formal kimonos.
Cho-Cho tells Pinkerton little bit about herself.
First of all, she’s 15 YEARS OLD (an age that, even in 1905, Sharpless is shocked at and calls “an age for dolls!” though Pinkerton himself seems extra-aroused.)
She was born into a wealthy station, but her family lost its wealth and fell from grace, at which point her father committed obligatory seppuku and the women of the family became geisha entertainers. (Since there can’t be a married geisha, presumably the marriage was also important to her as a form of retirement.)
Cho-Cho-San shows Pinkerton her few possessions - a fan, some ribbon, her father’s used wakizashi, and some figurines of her ancestors. This scene, titled “Vieni amor mio” uses Sakura, Sakura as a leitmotif the way “America Forever” used The Star Spangled Banner, and is very beautiful.
Cho-Cho-San quietly informs Pinkerton that she has secretly converted to Christianity the night before. Her marriage to him constitutes a full-on rejection of her old life and devotion to Pinkerton’s way of life. Where there had been “Cho-Cho,” now there is “Butterfly,” or better still, “Mrs. Pinkerton.” She even goes so far as to toss the figures of her ancestors away.
After the wedding ceremony has taken place, Cho-Cho-San’s priestly uncle appears, reveals that he saw her in the Christian church the night before, and gets every last one of her relatives to denounce her and run off in a rage. Pinkerton chases off her detractors.
That night, Butterfly and Pinkerton have a romantic romp in their nightgowns behind the ricepaper walls
This is when the opera breaks for intermission.
Puccini based his opera on a play he saw in 1900, which was in turn based on the book which came out in 1898 (but more on that later). The original stage play (which ran in London) featured the lead actress stepping out onto the stage when curtain fell and standing there, waiting, through the whole intermission.
This preview was special because at intermission, the chorus came out in plain clothes to take notes from the conductor
When the curtain rises, three years have passed. Butterfly is confused and worried, and Suzuki, in her wisdom, is sad to see that her mistress has obviously been ditched.
Suzuki is seen praying in front of a little Buddha at the beginning of act 2
But Butterfly refuses to believe it. She tells Suzuki never to doubt, because “on fine day, surely he’ll come back to us”
And that’s only, you know, one of the greatest opera arias of all time.
(you may also know it from Barney Gumble’s short film, “Pukahontas” from the Simpsons episode, “A Star is Burns,”)
Mr. Sharpless comes over to Butterfly’s house. This first half of act 2 is my favorite part, because it’s got some of the best empathic moments. Mr. Sharpless has a letter for Butterfly from Pinkerton, but he really, really doesn’t want to read it to her, because its contents will be painful.
He comes into her house and they awkwardly shoot the breeze for a while. Butterfly says all these obliviously optimistic things about Pinkerton while Sharpless winces the entire time.
She even asks him, “What time do robins nest in America?”
“Robins? Are you serious? Why do you want to know?”
“Pinkerton said he’d come back when the robins nested and I just want to know if they nest at a different rate in your country.”
“I Don’t know. I’m not an ornithologist.”
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you know that somebody you care about is setting themselves up to get hurt, but you also know that they won’t take your advice, you know why it sucks to be both Mr. Sharpless and Suzuki in this opera.
Music Note: Puccini likes to use pentatonics in scenes where the conversation is controlled by Japanese characters, and “regular” western diatonics/heptatonics when the scene is controlled by Western characters. Listen while you read to the next scene, in which an argument about cultural mores is backed up by Asian melodies battling western melodies.
Butterfly complains that Goro has started trying to set her up with new guys, like Yamadori, a wealthy military officer. Goro and Yamadori then come over to the house to try their luck once more.
While Yamadori has been pining after Cho-Cho-San for a while, he’s probably not good husband material. He’s a fairly humorless and arrogant fellow. His motto: ”There’s nothing more annoying than unrequited love.”
Yamadori’s been married and divorced three times, so there’s no guarantee other than his word that he’ll be a good mate for Cho-Cho-San, but he does provide her with a way out of her tragic situation that she doesn’t take.
Goro asserts that according to Japanese law (of 1905) —if you’re abandoned, it counts as a divorce, and you’re free to remarry. But Butterfly counters back, “That’s the law of your country, but my country is THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
You see, in America people don’t just get divorced all willy-nilly! (this was before, you know, we started getting divorced all willy-nilly). They need to go to court and have good reasons. She digs into Yamadori, telling him, “In America, if a man like you told the judge, ‘I’m bored and I want a new wife,’ he’d be thrown in jail!”
Butterfly’s tough attitude sends Yamadori and Goro packing. She then has Sharpless read the letter he brought, which he can’t bear to finish because it basically says “FYI I got a new wife and I’m bringing her to Japan for kicks.”
Trying to gauge Butterfly’s potential reaction to the news, Sharpless asks, “What would happen if Pinkerton never came back?”
Cho-Cho-San, very darkly, confides to Sharpless, “I would only have two options, to go back to being a geisha… or die.”
Sharpless begs Butterfly to consider marrying Yamadori, to which butterfly takes a bitter, quiet offense. She almost has Suzuki kick Sharpless out of her home, but changes her mind and holds him back to tell him that she didn’t mean what she said about dying, because she has a reason to live.
Then she goes to get him.
Cho-Cho-San had given birth to Pinkerton’s son, a blue-eyed boy whom she named “Sorrow.” His name will remain Sorrow until his father returns, and then his name will change to “Joy.” Sharpless is overwhelmed with emotion and promises Butterfly that he’ll tell Pinkerton about his son.
After a brief conflict with Goro, whom Suzuki caught spreading rumors, Suzuki and Butterfly hear cannons in the harbor which mean that Pinkerton’s ship (The USS Abraham Lincoln) has arrived.
Butterfly orders Suzuki to shake all the cherry blossoms from the trees to cover the floor with flowers for when he returns, and they gleefully prepare.
Unfortunately, Pinkerton never shows up, and Butterfly waits all night (standing on stage through a scene change, which echoes the original play’s use of the intermission).
However, when Butterfly gets tired and goes to bed, Pinkerton sneaks up to the house. Pinkerton, Sharpless and Suzuki have a scene together. The two sympathetic characters basically take the time to explain that Pinkerton has a giant penis for a head. It becomes clear that Pinkerton has brought his new wife, Kate, TO the house with him, with the intent of taking Cho-Cho-San’s child. Sharpless, believing that the boy would be better off in the United States (perhaps because he’s less likely to be stigmatized or harassed by people like Goro as he grows up), convinces Suzuki to go call Butterfly downstairs, while Pinkerton wanders off to get a grip on his remorse.
Butterfly comes down and sees Kate Pinkerton and basically has a “Who the hell is this strange white lady in my house?” moment.
Then she gets a look on her face like this:
“I see how it is.”
She accepts the completely unreasonable terms of the agreement, lets Kate take her son, makes everybody leave, dismisses Suzuki and then slits her own throat with her father’s wakizashi while looking longingly at her baby.
Pinkerton and Sharpless discover the body, Pinkerton falls to his knees as an emotionally destroyed person and Sharpless escapes, sobbing, with the baby.
Madame Butterfly was developed at a time in history when intercontinental travel had just become more feasible. Westerners have always had a sort of fascination with Asia/Japan (which survives in the weeaboos of today) but Puccini was actually able to do real research by going to Japan and living there for a while to learn about Japanese music. He transcribed the folk songs he heard and learned about unique Asian instruments, so that he knew what to use when he got back to Italy. He took special care to use strong, distinct regional melodies to identify cultural voices in this multicultural opera. He wasn’t afraid to lay it on thick while applying his research and dial up the musical style shifts. That’s a kind of trick I can really get behind.
Madame Butterfly premiered in 1904, but Puccini spent three years revising and rewriting the opera to make it the best it could be. The “final” version wasn’t finished until 1907. Puccini was cool because he applied, or at least accepted, what he heard from critics and wasn’t too proud to admit that his work could improve.
Puccini was inspired by a play he saw in London in 1900. That play was itself based on Madame Butterfly, the SHORT STORY. For the most part, it’s the same story with minor dramatic differences. The big difference is that the short story has a HAPPY ENDING. At the end of the book, just as Butterfly is about to kill herself, Suzuki bursts into the room holding the child, the sight of which causes Butterfly to stop what she’s doing and realize her mistake. Then the story says something like, “Pinkerton and his wife did return to the house, but when they did, they found it quite empty.”
It’s interesting to consider that while we usually imagine adaptors lightening the source material, Puccini (or maybe the authors of the stage play) decided to darken the mood to make the tale a tragedy.
It’s also worth noting that the book was supposedly based on a true story that the author, a missionary’s wife, encountered while living in Japan.
Some member of the Black Hat collective were afraid that Madame Butterfly would be a distortion, a sort of Fu-Manchu kind of “Asianish” story lacking facticity. It’s important to dispel that fear! It seems like an exceptionally well-researched story for 1905. In many dramatic respects, it actually feels very modern.
Issues in this play that are ripe for discussion include: Western understanding/misunderstanding of Japanese culture and vice-versa. The ethics involved in the story. Whether as a female lead, Cho-Cho-San is strong, weak, or a combination of multiple traits. The tragic form, and what flaws and mistakes led to the outcome that occurred. The transformations of a thrice-adapted story. The effect of appropriating national anthems and other stereotyped sounds in a piece of music. And more.
I invite anybody with further interest after reading this article to chat about it in the comments, and to go out and see Madame Butterfly —whether that means going to the opera or renting the 1995 film on dvd.
Last Thursday I went along with the Black Hat Collective to another preview at the Minnesota Opera. Our mission: To draw comics, enjoy the show, and have a fun time —then blog about it!
Tonight’s show: Werther
Read on to learn about history, tragedy, romance and Batman in this fully-illustrated article featuring cartoons and comedy.
Werther(Ver-tur) is an opera by 19th-century French composer Massenet (Massa-nay) based on an epistolary novel (a novel made out of mailed letters, like Dracula) by 18th-Century German author Goethe (Geuh-tuh).
The story is simple: A gloomy man named Werther falls in love with a lady named Charlotte, but she’s already promised her dead mother that she’d marry a guy named Albert instead. Charlotte and Albert get married ten minutes in and then everybody cries for an hour. Then Werther shoots himself. The end.
Before I show you my cartoons or discuss the opera, I think you should know the back-story behind this play.
Germany, 1774. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther when he was 24. At the time, he had a mad crush on a woman named Charlotte Buff, and used his book to vent his emotions. Goethe had considered himself a member of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) movement, which would later form the basis of the Romantic movement, which deemed everything natural sublime and exalted the extremes of emotion —including angst and depression as well as joy.
When The Sorrows of Young Werther came out, it struck a chord with people everywhere and became super popular. We’re talking Twilight-popular. Goethe became a celebrity overnight and “Werther Fever” spread across Europe. Werthermania inspired young dudes to dress like Werther (early cosplayers), write satirical fanfiction (such as The Joys of Young Werther, which has a happy ending) and even to perform some of the earliest known copycat suicides! This was a committed fandom!
Later in life, Goethe would grow to hate Romanticism, calling it “all that is sick.” He wrote that, “If Werther had been a brother that I had killed, I could not have been more haunted by his vengeful ghost.” Though he also understood that every young person deserves to have an emo phase, saying, “It would be sad if a person didn’t have a time in his life when he felt as though Werther had been written exclusively for him.”
After growing out of Romanticism, Goethe went on to become one of the great Humanist poets. He wrote works such as the epic 2-part Faust, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and many stories, plays, and poems. He was also a painter and a scientist, and did lots of research into optics, biology and color theory, from which he invented the first symmetrical color wheel.
France, 1887. 100 years after Goethe gave it up, French composer Jules Massenet is still clinging onto Romanticism even as it’s falling out of fashion (its arch-nemesis, Realism, is much more in vogue). He was a big fan of talented Germans (he had a flaming art-crush on Wagner) and it was only natural that Massenet turn Werther, the flagship of Sturm und Drang, into an opera. At 45, Massenet had already made about 17 operas so it’s naturally pretty good music. He had some trouble getting it performed at first, and halfway through he decided to rewrite it for a baritone, rather than a tenor (the tenor version is still the most common). Still, when it finally premiered in 1892, Massenet made bank.
Minnesota, United States, 2012.
120 years later, Thomas Boguszewski and sits in on a preview of Werther at the Minnesota Opera in Saint Paul. He draws some funny cartoons.
“This opera is about love..”
The show opens up onto a tiny room with all the walls covered in papers (love letters, presumably).
—Now I know where Baz Luhrmann stole the opening scene for Moulin Rouge.
Soon the actual set appears and it’s pretty nice. It’s a slim, sparse set in front of a large photographic backdrop of Industrial-Revolution Germany. There are smokestacks rising above the horizon and heavy clouds. The gloomy grayscale of the backdrop is offset by the little island of color that Charlotte and her siblings inhabit.
In this opera, Werther is quite the Romantic philosopher. His first song is an ode to the glory of nature, then he sings a tribute to the innocence of children, then he sings about falling in love with Charlotte because she takes such good care of her younger siblings.
(Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to get somebody to fall in love with you, learn to be good with kids.)
At first I just sat and sketched pictures of characters and scenes that I like.
Werther at Charlotte and Albert’s wedding. What a sad fella.
Charlotte’s sister had a good costume and played the part of a kid well
Werther met Charlotte and Albert in July, and by Christmas, he’s decided to kill himself over them.
Werther sends a letter to Albert asking to borrow some pistols, using a cover story of “I’m going out of town and need them for protection.”
Instead he takes the gun, wanders the streets, and prepares to kill himself while dramatic music plays.
This dramatic music made my day.
Because sitting in the opera, I was listening to THIS:
But all I could hear was THIS:
In the end, Werther locks himself in his room. He has taken all the letters down from his wall and thrown them into a pile in the corner. He has also scrawled “Liebe oder Tod” (Love or Death!) in huge script on the wall.
Werther sits in the corner with his pistol. Charlotte knows what he’s about to do and is coming to stop him, but she’ll never make it in time. Werther raises his gun, prepared to fire into his own chest.
The Black Hat Collective was invited out to another show at the Minnesota Opera on Thursday. Our mission is to view the opera, interpret it with cartoons, then blog about it.
This time the show was Silent Night — An adaptation into opera of the 2005 film Joyeux Noel, which is a beautiful story about the 1914 “Christmas Truce” of World War 1.
Read on to explore the history, music, art and drama behind Silent Night in this fully-illustrated article —with cartoons, videos and more! First, some background on the Christmas Truce. In 1914, British and German armies met on the front lines, ready to kill each other. But on Christmas eve, when soldiers were nostalgic for home and under the influence of the Christmas Spirit, each army overheard the other one singing Christmas Carols. Neither side desired violence on Christmas, and so they took the chance to have a formal truce, to bury their dead, and to mingle together.
Here is a short documentary about the Christmas Truce:
And here is a song about the truce, “Christmas in the Trenches” (1984) by John McCutcheon.
In 2005, a film was made. Joyeux Noel gives a fictionalized account of a Christmas Truce between Scottish, French, and German soldiers. The film features dialogue in all three languages and won lots of awards. Watch the trailer for Joyeux Noel.
The opera Silent Night is a direct, scene-for-scene operatic adaptation of the film.
Silent Night summarized and illustrated.
The play opens with the main characters being called away to war. We see what they have going for them and just what they have to lose.
Audebert, top. Ponchel, bottom.
In Scotland, brothers Jonathan and William are caught up by patriotic fervor and join the army. Their priest, Father Palmer, is concerned for their safety and joins the same army as a medic.
Lieutenant Audebert, leader of the French faction of the military, has a pregnant wife at home. And his aide, a local named Ponchel, longs to visit his mother who lives only 2 miles away.
Arguably the main character of this story is an opera singer named Nikolaus Sprink (yes the main character was an opera singer, even before the Movie was made into an opera, how meta is that?)
Sprink is called away from his career (and the love of his life, a soprano named Anna Sørensen) to take part in the war, but does so gladly. The German lieutenant Horstmayer, on the other hand, does not like Sprink at the beginning of the story for one reason:
Tell it like it is, Horstmayer!
This cast of characters convenes on the battlefield, which is located in France
The set for Silent Night centers around a rotating circular stage that serves as the elevated war zone between trenches
A battle ensues. William, the older of the Scottish brothers, dies, and Jonathan is heartbroken and maddened. Audebert loses his only photo of his wife (which is in his wallet) and is also heartbroken.
In the middle of all the fighting, Sprink is called away to give a Christmas recital for the German Princes and generals.
The recital is a duet with his love interest, of course.
I’d be grossed out too.
The safety and pomposity of the generals compared to the men in the trenches disgusts Sprink. He and Anna make plans to run off back to France and give a performance for those who deserve it - the german soldiers in the Trenches.
When Sprink and Anna arrive, the nearby Scottish soldiers are singing their own songs, and playing bagpipes. The Scots are playing for themselves, but the Germans can hear it.
Sprink sings for his German compatriots, and the Scots can hear it.
Sprink is so moved by the playing of the bagpipes that he musters up the courage to wander out into the center of the battlefield, carrying a small Christmas Tree, and sing.
This part is the best section of the opera, musically, IMO.
A bagpipe/opera-singing jam session!
Scottish Lieutenant Gordon. Must. Resist. Batman reference!
Audebert looks sharp
The lieutenants of each respective army frantically run to the center of the scene to keep things from becoming violent. Instead they propose a truce for Christmas eve.
All the soldiers convene and mingle. They trade booze, tell stories, play soccer, and do other fun things to cut the tension of wanting nothing but to murder each other moments before. Horstmayer finds Audebert’s wallet and gives it to him, solidifying their friendship.
The only person who doesn’t have fun is Jonathan, the younger Scottish brother. He finds his brother’s corpse, cries over it, buries it and vows to KILL EVERYONE.
On Christmas Day, the armies catch Jonathan burying his brother and decide to spend the day burying all of their dead. Father Palmer, who followed Jonathan and William into battle, leads the ceremonies.
These squiggles are actually a poignant depiction of the casualties of war
By the third day, the truce is officially over, but nobody can bring themselves to kill their new friends. However, eventually word gets out that this truce has happened. And then all of a sudden everybody is in
German (left) and British (right) Majors read news of the Christmas truce and freeze as if to say, “OH NO YOU DI-ENT”
The bosses come out to the field to crack down on fun.
The German bosses announce that the whole team is being relocated to a war zone in Russia. They also decide that Sprink is to be arrested and thrown in jail for a long time because it’s all pretty much his fault. Sprink and Anna share a romantic freak-out moment.
In the movie, they have sex or something. In the Opera, it’s a duet
Sprink and Anna decide that rather than get split up, they will walk across the battlefield and let themselves get taken as prisoners of war by the French military. Horstmayer knows he has to stop them but he lets them go anyway, because he’s a nice guy deep down.
The British bosses show up to the battlefield to berate everyone. When they see a lone man dressed in a German uniform, the British major demands that he be shot down. Nobody complies at first, but then Jonathan, who still wants revenge on all that lives and breathes, guns the poor guy down.
It turns out that the guy in German costume was actually Ponchel, the French aide! He had disguised himself as a German so that he could get past the blockades and see his Mom one more time. With his dying breath he informs Audebert that his wife has given birth to a son. This makes Audebert happy to be alive and willing to endure the crap he’s going to receive for allowing the truce to happen.
When the German soldiers are deposited in Russia, they march off to battle singing a Scottish Christmas Carol, illustrating the power of memes.
Then holographic letters pour out of the sky with choral voiceovers, implying that word of the event was spread and the Christmas Truce was immortalized.
Watching this production warms the heart, but also gives one a sense of the terrible irony of war —where humanity is looked upon as “weird” and violence is the norm. I think the message of this play is not only that “Artists make bad soldiers,” as Lieutenant Horstmayer points out at the beginning of the play, but also that good human beings make bad soldiers.
“Unsolicited criticism — Always a good seduction technique!”
Now I will REVIEW “Silent Night.”
Let me start by saying that I love the Christmas Truce. I am a history nerd. I geek out over history so hard. I am also a film person, and Joyeux Noel is a great film. Given that this opera is based on a great historical film, I think it’s safe to say that anybody who is either a history or a film enthusiast like I am will greatly enjoy this opera for its content.
When it comes to the form of the opera, I am also a theater person and a classical music enthusiast, and in the formal arena I have to say that while I liked it a lot, it could’ve been better. Here follows my well-reasoned critique:
The staging of this opera is brilliant. As a staged version of Joyeux Noel, it’s perfect. The costumes are great. The circular stage gimmick works really, really well. There are hologram effects, great sounds, great acting. This could have been a normal play and still had 75% of its charm.
I say that because, musically, my opinion is split 50-50. The incidental and background music (the stuff I can only call the “soundtrack”) is pretty darn good. It sounds very reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann to my ears. Occasionally it gets a bit dissonant and cacophonous in an unpleasant way at inappropriate times —between scenes, during transitions between one location and another. But overall I was pretty positive about the soundtrack.
On the other hand, there’s the dialogue-singing —what I would call the “songs.” These are my main area of concern. When compared to average operatic fare, these are well-written. The composer is clearly a talented classical mind with a style he’s developed and likes to stick to.
However, that’s my problem. Think about this: There is only one style throughout this entire play. I gather that the composer was more interested in composing his own opera than he was about composing the Christmas Truce opera.
Because when you’re dealing with a story about three armies from three different countries, you have a lot of openings for mimicking and blending regional styles of song. Unfortunately those avenues were not taken (except in the scene between the bagpiper and Sprink, which was beautiful and I loved). The scenes with the Frenchmen don’t sound particularly different from the scenes with the Germans and the Scots don’t seem musically Scottish at all.
Here’s what I would have liked to hear: Each army should have melodies or leitmotifs inspired by each nation’s musical or operatic tradition.
German opera has a style. It’s Wagner, Mozart (just to name a few). The music of Beethoven.
French opera has a different style. Think Debussy, Berlioz, Bizet, Offenbach, Gounod.
Britain, admittedly, doesn’t have much of an Opera tradition. Unless you count ballad operas, light operas, and musicals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a great lyrical music tradition. —especially the Scots!
One could easily model the music in the Scottish Army’s section off of traditional Scottish, Celtic, or folk melodies. It would have been brilliant to turn to the songs written by poet Robert Burns, for example.
And then when Christmas happened, the styles could merge and influence one another and the melodies could form counterpoints.
That would have made the show a *masterpiece.* I’m drooling now to imagine what that would sound like.
So as such, the background music is good, but the songs were not great. And the two different strains often blended together in an unsatisfying way. But the staging was perfect.
Either way, Silent Night is an amazing stage adaptation of Joyeux Noel. I rate it 3.7/5
This last week I tagged along with the Black Hat Collective, a crew of cartoonists and bloggers, to the Minnesota Opera for a showing of the Mozart operaCosi Fan Tutte. And the lot of us drew some funny pictures to go along with what we’ve seen.
Read on to learn more about Cosi Fan Tutte and to see my cartoons.
In Cosi Fan Tutte, the epic troll Don Alphonzo convinces our two young “heroes”(?) to test their girlfriends’ fidelity —their method: dressing up in ridiculous disguises and seducing (read: dogging the hell out of) each others’ objects of affection. When they succeed at the seduction (failure would be impossible given the effort they expend) they logically lose their wager with Alphonzo, and when they get upset at this and reveal themselves to their lovers (at the altar, of course), the girls are utterly ashamed. So in the final assessment, everybody loses. Then Don Alphonzo reveals that he did it for the lulz and to teach the boys a lesson, and this fact makes everybody happy for some reason, the end.
The opera is a hilarious, slapstick farce (I like to compare Mozart operas to Marx brothers films) but Cosi Fan Tutte is also oddly reprehensible at the same time. Half the laughs are from the delightfully hammy antics and half are awkward tension-breaking laughs at all the sexism and peer pressure happening on stage. But however you choose to look at it, it’s going to be a lot of laughs. Go see it.
My cartoons based on the play:
Costume for Despina, the maid who serves the two women in the story. She teams up with Alphonzo to stage the elaborate practical joke that is this play.
The young mens’ “clever disguises” might as well look like this
In a scene where the young men pretend to poison themselves, Despina dresses up as a mad scientist and zaps them “back to life” with a giant magnet. If that doesn’t tell you what this play is like, nothing will.
The antics depicted in these cartoons are not exaggerated from the stage in the least.
At whoever wrote the subtitles for this opera- I didn’t know there were zombies in this play
Towards the end of the final act, Don Alphonzo schools the heroes on the finer points of sexism
Have a nice day everyone, and keep laughing
Further notes: The play has some sparse sets, but the interactions between the characters keeps everything dynamic so it’s not an issue. I wonder whether Mozart and Ponte knew that the characters they were writing were inappropriate (and thus extra funny) when they wrote it, or if it’s only become that way over time. Anybody who wants to discuss this opera, let’s discuss.