The Soldier & the Dancer Tickles Audiences
Opera is usually associated with sophistication – booming Italian baritones playing out soap opera drama on a stage for educated audiences. But Martinů’s The Soldier and the Dancer is an opera for a wider and sillier audience, which seems fitting as a part of Prague’s 2015 Opera Festival which concluded last month.
The plot is based on the play Pseudolus by the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, and follows a series of comic situations between popular children’s story characters. These include ballerinas in white tutus, a pair of soldiers, a mischievous jester, and a cup of coffee who enjoys knitting. An enthusiastic dance team, dressed in black with pink sequined tops, act as a sort of Greek chorus.
One of the most well-received scenes by the Tyl Theatre Pilsen’s performance Jan 29 was a simple interaction between a man and a dog – well, technically a dog’s head. One dancer was dressed in a furry brown costume with his legs acting as the dog’s ears. The audience giggled as he lay on his back, turning the dog’s face right side up, and flopped his legs/ears to the monologue.
The story is not afraid to be impolite or controversial at times, either. This seems to come from both a desire to challenge the norms of traditional opera and the time period in which it was written. A clear example of this comes just before intermission when Czech adult film star Dasha enters the stage, following a monkey playing a drum, and she’s wearing blackface (= makeup to appear African) and a tutu of bananas while parodying a 1920s jazz singer. Political correctness is clearly of no concern here.
The Soldier and the Dancer mixes elements of jazz, musicals, and opera with a spirit of defiance against ideas of what opera “should” be. Nearly 90 years after its premiere, it still pushes the audience’s limits, using laughter and absurdity as its weapons.
This isn’t your grandmother’s opera, but your little brother just might love it.
— Auburn Scallon, Opus Osm writer
Photo Credits: Pavel Křivánek