Once in a while, me and the boyfriend like to enjoy what I call high culture. This is not to say that certain kinds of culture would be ‘better’ or ‘higher quality’, it’s mostly to do with the accessibility of it. For example: the occasional cinema visit, some comedy in the local pub, or a concert of a popular band, are easily arranged and (at least for the first two) not too pricey. Whereas high culture very much puts us and our piggy bank out of our comfort zone. But last Friday my parents invited us to go see an opera with them. Yes please!
My favourite operas so far, are the ones where you don’t know where to look first. Of course, you have the orchestra you can glance away at, the people around you in their fancy clothes and odd looking hairdos (and that is generally where we feel out of our comfort zone, being young and wearing are one and only set of fancy clothes, therefore referred to as my ‘opera’clothes). The insanely strong voices singing the impressive melodies coming out of these tiny little humans. (Yes, we generally sit on the 2nd balcony or higher). The stories unfolding, sometimes drama but sometimes pure slapstick comedy. But you also have the set and costume changes, the action happening on stage in the background, the choir doing all sorts of stuff. And usually, De Vlaamse Opera very much succeeds in bringing an interesting adaptation. They don’t put the opera on scene the way it was meant to when it was written hundreds of years ago. The only thing that is the same, is the music and the lyrics.
Last Friday, it was the premiere of Otello by Verdi (of course based on, as you all know, good ol’ Shakespeare’s story). The set was quite minimal, which usually makes me worry a little bit, as it gets boring more easily. But this time it didn’t. And for me, that was all thanks to the choir and the music.
For every act, only the absolutely necessary characters were on scene. Nothing was happening in the background, no set changes or no secondary actors acting out a side story. Even the costumes were bland, everyone dressed in black against a black set. But when the choir came on, I was dead impressed. You could almost call it a choreography, the way they all moved as one. The opening image was one of a black stage lit up by lightning, the back of the stage filled by the choir. It was set in a boat on a stormy sea, and the image was created beautifully and only by the movement of the choir. Really well done.
And then their was the music. Quite melodic, which is I why I still prefer the classics over more contemporary operas. In the first three acts, the music was strong and powerful, but in the last act it winded down beautifully. And that’s probably why the minimal decor worked so well. The music suited the story so well, the actors created a beautiful image just with their voices. They only had their faces and bodies to work with, but really managed to get under your skin.
So all in all, this opera was definitely worth watching for the music and just that. The music and the acting was so strong, they didn’t need any set or costume changes to keep the audience’s attention. This opera went back to its basics and did so very successfully.