On the night of Nov. 4, I attended the Pittsburgh Opera at the Benedum Center. The show was The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart and da Ponte. The trip was sponsored by the Honors Program, so there were several students and faculty of Saint Vincent College in attendance.
Late in the afternoon, we met up to go to Pittsburgh. We started on the car ride, talking about our various experiences with opera and our knowledge of the show (which was minimal for me personally, besides some basic knowledge from my art and music class at the college). I chose to go in Dr. McMahon’s self-described “fun” car, where Dr. McMahon was also offering unsolicited advice about life and careers.
We arrived in Pittsburgh approximately an hour prior to our tour of the Benedum Center. We decided that it was easier to eat dinner (the perfect precursor to a tour and an opera). So, the decision was made to go eat. Dr. Watkins was in the mood for sushi, so I and another student followed her for a grand adventure to find a new sushi place that opened in the cultural district. Dr. Watkins had been eager to try it, and from participating in events with Dr. Watkins, I knew following her would lead to good things. The rest of the group went for gyros and the possibility of pizza.
We were almost immediately seated at the sushi restaurant; evidently they did not become busy until approximately a half hour prior to the show. Dr. Watkins assisted us in ordering appetizers, which was good because while I’ve had sushi before, I hardly ever participate in the full experience. She ensured that we had edamame and a seaweed salad. We continued our experience of sushi; I stayed fairly basic with an Alaskan roll, which was still new to me but was not extremely different from other types of sushi that I had tried.
After dinner, we headed back to the Benedum Center and entered at the stage door where the performers were also showing up for call. We realized by the end of the evening what a transformation some of them had undergone to get into character. One actor appeared not much older than us, but by the time of the show he had been transformed into an old man to play the physician who would end up being Figaro’s father. We went into the orchestra pit, which was kind of incredible! I’ve never been in a pit before, and being in an orchestra pit where such high-caliber shows are put on was a surreal kind of experience. We went backstage and learned there was a room of just wigs and a costume room – neither of which were as exciting as you might imagine. I initially envisioned multiple beautiful costumes that I would see later in the show, but much to my surprise the costumes were not being stored there when we went through.
I do think it’s interesting that the cultural trust has acquired so many old movie theaters that were converted into these concert halls and theater venues. I noticed this primarily because the Honors Program has previously toured Heinz Hall, the home of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
We had a brief break between the tour and the actual opera.
This was an opera buffa. And there were moments that were certainly funny, such as when Cherubino is hiding in the countess’s closet and everyone is pretending it is Susannah. But, there is certainly something else to be said for the show. And that’s that in light of the last few weeks and all of the new sexual assault and harassment controversies, especially in Hollywood, it was actually kind of hard to sit in a theater and watch an opera that featured a lot of that. The count and Don Basilo try to cop a feel on Susanna. Once it was when she was passed out! And while it is supposed to be funny, it felt kind of unnerving to see when these controversies are so prevalent in our news.
There were also times where the story kind of dragged out. For example, when Cherubino is hiding in the closet, it was very difficult to have this sequence go on for almost 20 minutes, if not longer, while they sang about him getting caught. Or throughout the opera, the Count sings about his seething jealousy (even though, let’s not forget, he is repeatedly trying to cheat on his wife).
My other complaint is also that the supertitles above the stage were so basic as to take away from the work of da Ponte. I know that English and Italian are not the same language, but there were significant eliminations of the words being said. Dr. Arcara, who speaks Italian, attended the opera with us and pointed this out as well. We both felt it was a little maddening that there was this beautiful, poetic story and poetic Italian happening on the stage in paragraphs, and we received one and two sentence translations. It is probably difficult to perfectly translate poetry into another language, but I’m also sure that it could have been done with slightly more justice.
Other than the aforementioned issues that I had with the opera, overall it was a positive experience. I find myself listening to the music from the opera again and again. It makes for good study music and it truly is beautiful. I think it exemplifies the genius of Mozart as an artist and composer. The music perfectly captures all of the emotions and plot of the opera. While they were written in conjunction, the music felt like it could’ve been written after the lyrics and story were written. And while I mentioned my frustration at not getting the full poetic beauty of the words being said, the music does tend to replace the emotions of the plot with great success. There is certainly poetry in the music.