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Fallujah the Opera

Vancouver has staged an opera about Fallujah. Not about the massacre of its people as the US invaded Iraq, where civilian refugees were forbidden to flee from the incoming assault, where entire families were shot from helicopters as they tried to escape across the river, but the human tragedy of what the genocidal US soldiers had to endure. PTSD. That's apparently what's commemorable about the war crime of Fallujah. That "Fallujah".

For people who hate opera

The trouble with introductory collections like "Opera for People Who Hate Opera" is of course that it's still OPERA. I'm inclined to believe the gateway acquired-taste for American pop music ears is --why not-- American Musical Theater. But before I get to the particular show I have in mind THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, for a teaser, get thee to Tevye's dream of Fiddler On The Roof. Find the original Broadway stage recording (These girls found it: The Dream) where Zero Mostel pretends to be visited by two ghosts, blending three melodies --with dances-- to a whirlwind intensity. Discordant, shrill, phenomenal, pure opera. FIDDLER ON THE ROOF: THE DREAM Really, you cannot but love the energy and drama of that piece. And it meets the lower brow halfway: it's in English, mostly, it's sung in the registers to which we are more accustomed today, and the cacophony is corralled at a driving dervish pace, also most contemporary. A Broadway convention of the golden age of musicals was the Dream Ballet scene. In Fiddler it was an opera and a ballet, but instead of a dream or a character's hallucination, this was Tevye's pretense of a nightmare, conjured to convince his wife to assent to let their oldest daughter marry the boy she loved, instead of the old man to whom she was promised. The Dream features three motifs: Grandma Tzeitel represented by the Mazel Tov refrain, with the rejoinder of Tevye and his wife Golde, overtaken by the crescendo of the butcher's deceased wife Fruma-Sarah, clearly borrowing the menace of the Wicked Witch of Oz. That's it -- you can like opera! Don't think yourself less sophisticated because lyrics in a foreign language bore you, or because sopranos or tenors strain your ears. You probably wouldn't favor centuries-ago gruel either. THE MOST HAPPY FELLA Just as maturing musical taste builds inevitably toward Jazz, I have a theory that Broadway fans eventually seek for melodies a little less pat. After not so long, the tunes you can easily whistle up the aisle begin to sound the same. Fresh ones don't solve anything. Trust me, the unsung Broadway shows which didn't recoup their production costs don't sound any better now. Great as were all the Rogers & Hammerstein hits, you have heard only half their shows and yet you've heard them all. Ironically, R&H tried their hand at an opera-like show, called ALLEGRO, I don't favor it, and neither did anyone else. What I do know is that I love THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, a comparatively obscure musical which had the misfortune of opening in the shadow of MY FAIR LADY, you remember that one in your sleep. TMHF is the acknowledged masterpiece of Frank Loesser, who had no need to prove himself after composing GUYS AND DOLLS. Great as it is, how many times can you listen to Luck Be a Lady? Being labeled an opera has meant ruin for Broadway musicals which stray from the basic musical review format. Musical Theater traditionally meant catchy tunes

Coppelia and the Viennese Hesitation

If you are hardwired with a cultural affliction like mine, if you find yourself with a compulsive affinity for the waltz, I'll wager you will also be a sucker for what's called the Viennese Hesitation. It was just such a hook that led me to a Slav melody that immersed me into a ballet called Coppélia, two days ago, and I still haven't surfaced.   Any fan of ballet, or parent whose child has studied dance, will know about this beguiling comic classic. To the rest of us unwashed, Coppélia or The Girl with Enamel Eyes, draws a blank, likewise even of its composer, Leo Delibes. Most of us outside the world of dance think ballet is all nutcrackers and swans, or the usual literary themes transposed to choreography. What are ballets but silent films to opera's talkies? In today's terms, ballet scores were the first soundtracks, and if you find new film scores overwrought, you might be delighted to alight on Delibes and his clever heroine, yes, Swanilda. The title character Coppélia is actually a doll, the creation of aging Dr. Coppelius in his efforts to fashion his idealized bride. Seated in a window above the square, the mechanical beauty entrances the village boys, in particular Swanilda's suitor Franz, so it falls to the assertive girl to break the spell. Hilarity ensues. Or, beyond the traditional lighthearted reading... You may not recognize the name Delibes, but you know his Mazurka. And I'll bet you can hum his Pizzicato (a divertissement from Silvia) in its entirety. Tchaikovsky said if he'd fully appreciated Delibes' mastery of composing for the ballet, he would not have dared write Swan Lake. If you'd like to share my Coppélia experience, I'd love to curate it for you. Start with the Royal Ballet production available on Youtube, mostly because the entire performance is there, and its intertitles explain the plot. There are more lauded productions, but Youtube has enough of their highlights to satiate without testing your patience with Netflix. That said, you'll want to put the 1994 Lyon Ballet adaptation to the top of your queue now, because we want to save that for last. The 2000 Royal Ballet production provides an ideal example of a classic interpretation of COPPÉLIA on a Disney budget. The comedy is writ large enough for opera glasses in the nosebleed seats. The choreography is traditional with a Sorcerers Apprentice perfection to it. The costumes are precisely Galician, where this adaptation of a Hoffman tale is set, an agrarian village in a region now part of the Ukraine, but in 1870 belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The red boots go to the Hungarian wine makers who dance the Csardas, and the black boots to the Mazurka dancers returning from the wheat harvest. Unfortunately the Royal Ballet appeared satisfied to play to the popular misconception that the story of Coppélia is a trifle. I'll suggest as a rebuttal the 2001 production staged by the National Ballet School of Paris, where the students were clearly able to imbue the

If you have to ask for whom the fat lady sings, it is not for Tahrir Square.

--And to really mix my malaprops, she sings for them that bought her. If there was one variable which got away from the underdogs of Egypt's Jan25 Revolution, it was who would referee the endgame. While Hosni Mubarak's stunning defiance Thursday night looked like a Hail Mary pass hoping to provoke the protesters to mayhem, as a defensive strategy he was moving the goalposts. Anticipating a capitulation, the Tahrir Square demonstrators made clear it was the entire regime which needed ousting, no Suleiman, no Emergency Law, an inviolate list of demands. Mubarak's insulting buffoonery focused the great beast's wrath like a rodeo clown. When the announcement came he was stepping down, who could not help but raise a cheer, drowning out the earlier precautions. Mubarak played Egypt like a fiddle, as he burned it, while the fat lady of state media called the game over. It's not over until the fat lady sings So opera advises American football, in reality a game governed strictly by elapsed time. The expression describes the mutual sense that every competition has a natural denouement. Actually another false notion, as this feeling is not often shared by the side fallen behind at the final score. I've convoluted ask not for whom the bell tolls-- and if you have to ask how much it costs--, Hemingway and Bugatti I believe, to stress the obvious, that Wagnerian sopranos are kept in furs by the wealthiest of patrons. As epic as might be your struggle, unless you transcend the stage to torch the theater, the status quo raises and lowers the curtain. Without seizing the state media, if even that had been possible, and without staging a narrative to compete with Mubarak's Greekest of tragic high dives, the Tahrir Square revolutionaries became mere players to please the king. How could we have missed the grand theatricality of Mubarak's televised last stands, lighting and makeup dialed to Bela Lugosi? Anyone who knows to dramatize a campfire tale by holding a flashlight under his chin also knows they don't do that for their profile pic. In all three of his televised responses to the Jan25 reformers, Mubarak could be paraphrased to have said "over my dead body." It was a road map his adversaries probably should have heeded. Where is Mubarak now? He's not gone, he hasn't even left Egypt. We are informed Mubarak has stepped down by the same henchmen who told protesters "all your demands will be met," then meeting none. We learn now that Egypt's Supreme Council of the Military is trying to clear Tahrir Square. It's outlawing those who would cause chaos and disorder, and forbidding labor unions to assemble or strike. It's refusing to end Egypt's emergency law, or to release the unknown thousand detained during the protests. What of Suleiman and the regime's other cronies? We have only Mubarak's doppelganger in an army cap. Field Marshall "Happy" Tantawi, takes to the microphone with no other agenda it appears than to restore Egypt its accustomed sonorous normalcy.

Muddy wellies across white canvas

Norway prides itself on its ubiquitous and egalitarian middle class, making of its opera house a celebration of folkstheatre –and it’s no empty boast– Oslo newspapers address eight pages to culture versus one to sport. But I think the architects behind the glacier-slopped Oslo Opera House have struck with typical condescending Nordic sarcasm. Here is an in-edifice to high art on which the people can trod, on every last angle. Even if Scandinavian farmers are not inclined to attend opera performances, they can sight-see from the pretentious exterior. Idealists can assert this art reaches the Hoi Poloi, as it compels visitors to put it all underfoot. It's form over substance, literally. The result presents aimless booted peasants looking like they wouldn’t know art if they stepped on it. I can see the pretension to flatten the Sidney Opera House, crossed with Hong Kong harbor's wreck of the Queen Mary II. The straight lines may have impressed on paper, but crawling over with masses, I see more a sinking white elephant.

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