Wednesday, Jan 4, 2012:Fish Women & Gorillas
Do you still think “opera” means fat ladies singing with spears? Imagine this: you’ve been invited to an official pre-opera press conference. Your invitation warns, “The less able-bodied should bring their headlamps and hip flasks.”
You go to the cellar of the National Theatre, still in your winter coat and hat. You sit quietly in rows with other journalists, inside a massive wire cage underground. Human-sized frogs (“R-r-r-r-r-hk-hk-hk”) approach your wire walls curiously, staring at you with the huge bubble eyes on their foreheads.
Suddenly your entire cageful of silent journalists rotates slowly, and then stops. A heavy steel shutter on the left clanks as it rolls up, and you see a short hallway. The cage clatters as it slides sideways down this hall and then stops in front of another steel shutter. You all titter a little nervously. Then it too rolls up, and your cage slides forward into a dark room. Fish women (murmuring “Ooo-ooo-ooo”) with lighted white cones on their heads and fairy fishwings on their backs stroll around in the murky light.
And then the tumbling gorillas roll in.
Is this any way to introduce news of an opera? Especially, one which will be staged by an icon of tradition, the Czech National Opera (formerly the National Theatre opera and its partner, State Opera Prague)?The answer is: yes, absolutely. The opera is Čarokraj, whose characters include those frogs and fish women, plus phoenixes, a talking book, and other fantastic creatures based on the book The Talking Parcel by Gerald Durrell. This production, with music by Marko Ivanovič, directed by puppetmaster Peter Forman, premieres at the National Theatre house next Saturday, January 14.
Yes, there is a place for the traditional repertoire, and our fervent wish is that fans, especially you, if you’re afraid of opera, will learn to love it. Going to a live opera performance is not only a foundation of your cultural heritage, but a way to preserve your access to that heritage, and to preserve your right to make your own choices about it.
And a great place to start is with the light opera (opera buffa) which awaits you this month at the Czech National Opera.
Tři Pintové (The Three Pintos – Pinto is a character’s name) is a light farce with easily accessible acting and amusing, dreamlike stage decorations and costumes. Sometimes a lead character sings directly to the audience; sometimes the chorus parades through the side aisles, so you can hear just what – and how – individual opera singers really sound like as they walk past you.
Čarokraj, though based on a children’s book, should be great entertainment for everyone, regardless of age, fondness for opera, or even knowledge of music. The press conference could easily have been yet another hour of principals lined up in a row, reading speeches, and passing the mic. Not this one. The remarks were impromptu (no one could have read a speech in the dark, anyway). And the speakers, separated from journalists by the roaming fish women and tumbling gorillas, spoke through a bullhorn.
So if you still think opera is about the fat lady who merely stands and sings, give these two operas a try. They will help speed along the dark days of January and – who knows – you might even find yourself returning in February. — oo
– Mary Matz
Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička