Posts tagged Opera House

Three Dead Women – Part II

Twenty fours hours later I was in the same Opera House again to witness a opera and change of scenery several centuries earlier in Italy. The setting of Rigoletto is that of a Duke who is boastful of his conquests with women and Rigoletto, the court jester, taunts him.  From what I understand a wicked curse was spoken against Rigoletto by another man. Men seemed to dominate this opera and most all of them did a superb job of singing.  The male chorus in their bright costumes was a wonderful backdrop to the soloists, they sang many complicated numbers throughout this Verdi composition.

 

However, the most beautiful was Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda who was kept safe in his house until the servant was paid off for the Duke to kidnap Gilda.  I must write that from the very beginning the Duke as a tenor did NOT have a strong voice.  He was coughing in his first numbers and was drowned out by the orchestra.  When the duke was singing a duet with Gilda, the beautiful soprano, he went flat.  Overall it seemed a mismatch from the get-go.  Gilda in the end dies to the great heartbreak of her father, Rigoletto.  Second dead woman.

 

What was MOST troubling about this piece, besides having a poorly equipped tenor, was the fact that right when Gilda was about to go into high gear, and I do mean “HIGH,” something happened in the audience in the front row.  All of a sudden there were three teenage boys that ran as if on fire up the middle aisle and banging out the back door.  It would not have been so bad but the trampling effect was enough to put a fright in all of us in the audience, so much were we concentrating on the lovely soprano in the middle of the stage.  Gilda didn’t bat an eye, she didn’t miss a beat and thankfully neither did the orchestra conductor.  She kept going with her solo number and went into her most amazing, spectacular performance.  I’m thankful that this didn’t happen during her more complicated runs because it was a wonder she could even pull it off after that alarming noise from the audience.

 

When the opera ended with the tragic death of Gilda laying on the stage in a man’s outfit (that was her disguise to get out of the Duke’s clutches), she looked different at curtain call from what she had worn earlier of her beautiful feminine costume.  The assassin took a bow, the vampish woman took a bow, the Duke as the tenor was on the far end from Gilda, the soprano but neither of them took a separate bow.  I think the whole audience was waiting for Gilda to stand out alone and it didn’t happen.  What was going on with this opera?

 

Gilda (Zhamila Baspakova, according to my program notes) stole the show and it made me wonder if the three young boys weren’t a plant to purposely make her falter during her solo. That is how suspicious I am.  The tenor was clearly a Kazakh singer by the name of Murat Shalabaev.  He had a nice voice but he was NOT in his game and maybe suffering from a cold, his voice cracked on his last solo from off stage.  Again according to my notes if I’m reading it right without knowing Kazakh, Rigoletto was Talgat Kuzembaev and not Kazakh either.  He, like Gilda, did a great job as well.  I’ll always wonder but the analogy to me is that sometimes the bright shining stars are sometimes put down and sometimes the mediocre players are supposedly exalted.  The audience knows though, the audience knows.

 

On a sadder note, when I left church earlier that morning there was an actual dead woman on the street who was being photographed by police.  This was presumably a hit and run accident and the authorities just left her where she lay with the cars going around her on the busy one way street.  The direction of traffic has been recently changed as of a month or so ago from a two way to a one way.  She may not have known and walked out in front of a fast moving car.  We may never know.  Her purse or bag was about a meter away from her body.  Three dead women in one weekend is a bit sobering.

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Three Dead Women: Ballet and Opera Stories

Last weekend was my cultural weekend at the Opera House, it’s also when I experienced seeing three dead women.  I went to the premier ballet showing the Kazakh folk legend of Tlep and Sarykys.  See my earlier blog entry about the tech rehearsal I went to the week before.  This ballet apparently is the dream of a wealthy Kazakh patron to have a ballet based on the story of one of his forebears. The music was commissioned from a well known Kazakh composer, Almas, the son of Kazakhstan‘s most famous opera singer Yermek Serkbayev. That was the first dead woman I witnessed last weekend.

 

“A story that took place a long time ago is about a young man named Tlep, and his unique destiny was to live an incredible life.  When he was still a young boy, he met a Shaman and heard the kobiz (a traditional Kazakh musical instrument). The boy saw how the Shaman healed people with the sound of his kobiz. The melody of the kobiz deeply impressed the boy’s heart, and he decided to live with the Shaman and his daughter Sarikiz to learn to play the kobiz, become a Shaman and gift people with light. The young Tlep doesn’t change his decision even when he discovers that his father, together with his army, are leaving. He stays with the Shaman.

     A long time passes. Day after day, year after year, Tlep attentively learns the art from the old Shaman. Tlep and Sarikiz grow up. Their friendship transforms into tender love. They were happy together, but the day comes when Tlep ends his training, and he must leave the Master’s shelter and go out in the world. The separation is very hard for him. Tlep leaves together with his father’s army. Difficult challenges await him. The war between Light and Darkness never stops, and Tlep realizes he has to do his best on the side of Light. He feels the Dark warriors nearby, and together with the army, goes further into the steppe.

      Long endures their sorrow, Tlep misses Sarikiz and she also always thinks about him. Upon time the Army of light sets a camp. The golden hawk sets the Spirit of Friendship upon the camp. Girls dance, everyone rejoices. But, Tlep is sad. He looks for Sarikiz and he think he sees her, dancing with the other girls. At the highest point of the celebrations, the Dark army gets into the camp. The battle starts. The dark Army wins. The light army is destroyed. Karakus ,the leader of the Dark army celebrates. She raises the chapan (dress) of the Shaman above her head and everybody understands he died. Tlep defeats the Dark Army with the magical power of his kobiz. The dark forces leave the camp.

       Tlep travels to find Sarikiz, protect her and never leave her again. His journey is long and dangerous, Karakus and the Dark forces follow him at every step. They want revenge after he defeated them. Finally Tlep finds Sarikiz. They hug and she feels safe, but the Dark forces follow them, and she dies. Tlep is left alone, his only companion is music. Every time he plays the kobiz her image appears to him, and he believes she is there, because she lives within his music. He wears his Master’s chapan. Tlep feels that his Master will stay with him and that Sarikiz will be alive until his music will sound.” [not sure who to credit for this review] 

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Last weekend I went to the premier ballet showing the Kazakh folk legend of Tlep and Sarykys.  The costumes, created by an American designer, were amazing. The military dancers had garb that represented their uniforms, the women dancers wore Kazakh looking traditional clothes, brightly colored.  The female hero was in a simple, billowy dress and the hero looked athletically lithe in his tights.  

 

The evil varmints made their dark presence known by their roach-like movements and black costumes along with their leader, the wicked witch who had cast a spell on the young lovers.  This vixen-like ballerina had six inch long finger nails and the guy who hoisted her around did an admirable job. When the ballet was finished, Margo Sappington was on stage taking her bows with the rest of the Kazakh ballet troupe.  The kobiz instrument, which was a major part of the story, showed in a pattern of stars in the backdrop along with the crescent moon of a Kazakh landscape.  Short and sad story but it ended with the hero losing his beautiful lover to death and he went on to be a kobiz musician and singer of sad ballads that healed his broken heart. 

Moral of story:  Never judge a ballet by its tech rehearsal, no matter how good the choreographer and dancers are!

 

 

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Ballet Tech Rehearsal with Margo

When Nancy and I met Margo Sappington to see the tech rehearsal of her ballet, we were ushered through back corridors in the belly of the Opera House.  Margo is a highly respected guest choreographer from the U.S. and has been working with the Kazakh ballet troupe for about four months.  She has a long resume of working with the Joffrey Ballet and travelling around the world promoting this art form of ballet.  Next Friday night will be the opening world premiere of Tlep and Sarykys.  

 

The orchestra was already in the pit practicing and dancers in their colorful practice leotards were warming up their bodies on stage.  We walked into a darkened hall draped with huge, white sheets over all the auditorium chairs and runners along all the walking corridors. You’d expect the hall would be cold with disuse, it was not. It did remind me something reminiscent from the “Phantom of the Opera” sans the gas lit lights or man in the mask, it felt eerie.

 

The set on stage was expansively dark as it had blue sheer cloth draped from the top 50 feet above all the way down while stars and a crescent moon twinkled behind the cloth.  The most prominent props on stage were an assortment of what looked like kettle drums, some a yard in diameter, the biggest one perhaps as big as 10 feet across looking like a solid, round trampoline.  The men ballet dancers were doing acrobatic jumps, the ballerinas were walking on their toes like pedestrians crossing a street.  Funny, you always see them gliding, jumping or running across stage but NEVER ambling like a normal person.  I got to thinking how these people have been trained from a young age to do things to their bodies that is classified as art simply because no one else would punish themselves the way they do.

 

Take for example what the principal dancer did on the biggest kettle drum that was about 3-4 feet off the ground.  He put himself into a spin with about 10 rotations and then appeared to have his equilibrium coming out of it as if he spins like a top all the time.  Normalna. We gasped in amazement at this feat but also how the other male dancers just kept jumping and dancing, staying vertical all the while.  The ballerinas had incredible poise and dignity as they made their intricate head, hand and arm movements.  Again we were in awe of how supple they were as they made all their effortless-appearing movements.  To see the identical moves done by 15 to 20 dancers simultaneously takes practice and they executed it nicely over and over again.  Ah, such grace!

 

However, this moment was cut short quickly as this was a tech rehearsal after all.  We were reminded of that fact when Margo halted the orchestra to do a number over again.  If only we knew the story line, we would have been able to follow why the girl was being carried six feet off the ground with a huge black, sheer cape streaming behind her to center stage.  Also, there was a beautiful man and woman duo, with dancers in the background, where the female lead was to eventually give her partner a coat on the big kettle drum. 

 

Later on a colorful coat did appear with a big dancing guy named Dimitry, he looked like a benevolent, huggable bear.  What was so amazing about Margo was that she knew the whole cast by name and I picked up this guy’s name from the commands Margo was giving him in particular.  Dimitry seemed older compared to his fellow dancers, out of breath and perhaps out of practice.  He had the poise of a dancer but he was not coordinated with the little dancer he was lifting.  I wondered, was he subbing for someone?  His delicate partner seemed nervous about being hoisted up six feet off the ground and looked relieved whenever she touched down on terra firma.

 

Another thing I marveled at was Margo’s ability to work with the orchestra conductor.  She at one point was yelling “stop, stop, stop” innumerable times from stage about 10 feet from him but he kept looking down at his conductor’s score.  Whatever the orchestra members knew of English, they would certainly know that Russian cognate of “stop!” However, they kept following the flailing arms of the conductor because he was THEIR leader.  Margo finally got his attention and he did finally stop, only then did the orchestra members stop playing.  She pointed out that one particular number was being played too slowly.  That was obvious to even me, the dancers were struggling to make their rehearsed moves coordinate with a slower rhythm.  Sometimes the music was going too quickly or too softly and the dancers didn’t hear their cues to start moving. 

 

One scene I particularly enjoyed watching was a sheer scarf that passed from one ballerina to another, it was like a game of tag.  Seeing who could hold on to it and pass it off as quickly as possible.  The first time the scarf seemed to land on the floor more often than being caught by the next dancer.  On the second take, the ballerinas seemed to keep it in the air like a balloon that was not to touch the floor. This playful scene was whimsical and lighthearted.  Again, I wished we knew what the plot was all about in order to make sense of the scenes we were watching.  Were the scenes we watched in order of the performance?  Where was the antagonist?  Will anyone die in the end?  Will the lovers be brought together or separated?  Seeing a tech rehearsal without notes raises more questions than answers.  We didn’t even know the title of the ballet, we hadn’t even thought to ask Margo before she went into high gear.

 

Margo seemed like a strict school master at times, asking about shoes that were off to the side, “get them off!” she’d shout or barking at those in the wings to be quiet!  She knew exactly when and where the props were to be moved.  I wasn’t sure if it would be ballet dancers that would unlock the legs to move the big kettle drums on the coaster wheels or if tech people would be doing it.  Perhaps without the curtains being closed and opened between scenes we saw everything too up close and personal.  Sometimes Margo would go on the stage to demonstrate how the dancers were to line up, all the while having someone who knew Russian to translate for her.

 

As an EFL teacher, I wondered how she could use English to achieve this monumental task of getting these high strung performers who know Russian or Kazakh to do the body movements she required of them.  Many, many hours of rehearsal went into what we witnessed last night of her drawing out the talent of these highly skilled dancers.  After this tech rehearsal, I want to witness the real performance in order to see how these dancers and musicians will pull this extravagant number off.  Kudos to Margo for all her dedicated, hard work, she is leaving Kazakhstan soon.  I hope next weekends shows go flawlessly for Margo.  Is it appropriate to say “break a leg” to ballerinas?

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