Football fans go to opera, too (La bohème BP Big Screens)

I still can’t get over it: Messi lost the World Cup. And my childhood friend keeps pestering me to go with him to the opera. I finally gave in. If the guy fancies that Angela at this point… it’s better not to start an argument with him. This is not the first time I see an opera, last time I went with the Snob (this is how we call this guy) to see La traviata, after he gave us all the necessary explanations. I couldn’t get rid of him this time either, but I must confess I don’t regret it. He told me: You, Fanny (this is how my friends call me, those who know I am a football fan), I will take you with me to the opera because, if you are able to see the poetry in football, when reading all sorts of football magazines and books, then you must be capable of understanding this thing, too. He has this vision, that he saves this art from death if he brings football fans to the opera house, it’s his obsession in this world. He also told me: If you understand how things go about this opera, then I will forget about the 10 Euros you owe me, but only if you write on paper what you have understood. In your own words. So, even if you laugh at me, I don’t care, and here is what I understood:

15 July 2014, one Tuesday,
Stadium: Royal Opera House of Covent Garden, series: BP Big Screens 2014
Spectators: 2.200 plus a few tens of thousands in the open
Match: Giacomo Puccini: La bohème
Players (4-4-2): John Copley (director) – Julia Trevelyan Oman (set designs), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus, John Charlton (lightning designs) –  Vittorio Grigolo (Rodolfo), Massimo Cavelletti (Marcello),  Lauri Vasar (Schaunard), Gábor Bretz (Colline) – Irina Lungu (Musetta), Angela Gheorghiu (Mimì)
Substitutes: Jeremy White (Benoît), Donald Maxwell (Alcindoro)
Conductor – Cornelius Meister

The Snob told me, on our way, that he had talked a few weeks before with an important Romanian conductor, Tiberiu Soare, who told him that the passion opera music can produce is of the same nature and as mad as the passion in football or politics. After the performance I understood what he meant and now I am sure the conductor, who was born in Berceni, like me, and who was a football fan, like me, was 100% right.

This opera by Puccini lasts nearly two hours, like a football game with extra-time. And if you don’t pay attention to the music and the words, the sensations you can have are not very different. The story starts in some students’ garret, in the XIXth century, but it is impossible not to think that things have not changed too much, especially if you had your own student’s years. Rodolfo – a poet, Marcello – a painter, Schaunard – a musician and Colline – a philosopher sing while speaking and speak while singing, I wouldn’t have imagined that their lines could have been so meaningful once a composer had discovered the musicality in their chatting. The four of them look like a half-way line in a football team. They seem to feel good, play the ball totally relaxed and have a lot of fun when they dribble and diddle their opponent, Benoît, the landlord, who has come to collect the rent. This is a real football match. It is the match of these young people with life and its difficulties. And if you see it like this, you are going to watch it breathlessly until the end, hoping for a good result. And when this match is an opera, then a wonderful high note can trouble you the same as a goal, a good duet is sometimes more spectacular than a dribbling, and misses are as disappointing as the ones in football, when the goal is empty.

Minute 23: conductor Cornelius Meister opens Rodolfo’s aria, Che gelida manina, with a French horn sound. Vittorio Grigolo takes over the tempo and starts to build a canto line that materializes in a la speranza whose natural C is so spectacular, that it raises the audience on their feet. And still, Grigolo seems to be a kind of Cristiano Ronaldo: he is in a hurry, he starts a little too early than the orchestra in some phrases, he forces so that everyone can hear his beautiful voice, his vibrato may not appeal to everyone, but his youth and his impetuosity eventually conquer us all, even though his attitude on stage seems, every now and then, to be more that of the football superstar.

The plus of an opera performance, when compared to a football game, are the sopranos. These women can make you lose your emotional balance on the spot. Immediately after Grigolo’s aria, Angela Gheorghiu sings an aria, Si, mi chiamano Mimì, which simply dumbfounded me. I’ve read in a book that when Mimì starts to sing, nothing else matters – the setting, her dress, the partners on stage, everything goes dim, and this character, if well sung, attracts like a magnet all the spectator’s emotionalism. This time, Angela Gheorghiu was this ideal Mimì: suddenly I saw only her and I understood why the Snob had been so mad about her for such a long time. Angela Gheorghiu, whom everybody knows from the media as an impersonation of the diva concept, became again, on the stage in London, the girl in Puccini’s opera – the one with whom Rodolfo falls in love instantly. Sì, mi chiamano Mimì, ma il mio nome è Lucia. La storia mia è breve. How can one sings this in such a way so that to make you, the spectator, feel you are Rodolfo? This is how Angela sings: with simplicity, with good taste, with a youth in her voice that makes you instantly forget the many years of her career, she sings these words as if she were at her début in this role …

Angela Gheorghiu
Angela Gheorghiu

When they started again, I mean the second act in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Puccini’s music and the acting of those on stage were a real tiki-taka, where, for many minutes, you could just sit and look, open mouthed, at the musical frenzy in front of you. Of course, this lasted up to Musetta’s walz, Quando m’en vo, an aria of unbelievable beauty, like a free kick from an ideal position, ended with a folha seca. I found that Irina Lungu sang this part a little too self-assured, a little too maturely, less coquettishly than she should have sung it. Like a kick that skimmed the goalpost but didn’t enter the goal.

The third period, at the Barrière d’Enfer, was even better. Grigolo’s histrionic excesses completely disappeared, and, together with Angela Gheorghiu, he delivered a duet of an emotion impossible to find in any other art, and I will not even mention sport here. And the soprano again, with Donde lieta uscì, unique and incomparable in the sensitivity and natural art she transmitted.

The end… I had a lump in my throat at the end, when Mimì died. It was like that, you know, when your favourite team plays gloriously and still loses, as their opponents score a goal in the last minute. I don’t know any other better comparison for the bad taste in my mouth left by Murger’s young characters’ match with life. But I don’t want to forget the joy in Puccini’s music and the force it has to enhance the drama in the libretto.

I also liked Massimo Cavaletti, as Marcello, and the orchestra and the chorus were awesome, too. The Snob told me he had seen Cavaletti in an HD transmission from the Metropolitan Opera and that he sang better in London. He also told me about John Copley’s production – that it was 40 years old and this was the last season when they used it, as they were going to change it in autumn. Well, this is really a legendary production, and, indeed, everything seems so real in the setting and in the costumes, but, at the same time, it has a special significance for Romanians – there is a well-known DVD with Ileana Cotrubaș, a famous Mimì 30 years ago, but also a more recent video recording, with Teodor Ilincăi as Rodolfo.

And I must add that this broadcast was made possible by British Petroleum’s sponsorship, which celebrates 25 years of collaboration with Covent Garden, that includes this summer season. This is a situation we cannot find in Romania, where, as far as I know, no oil company (and there are several, even big ones) gives money for such an event, and the result is that the Bucharest opera has no summer season.

And I’ve decided that, if I ever go to a football match on a big European stadium, I will certainly look for the opera house and check its calendar. The city of Santiago Bernabeu also has Teatro Real de Madrid, Giuseppe Meazza is in the same city as Teatro alla Scala, and Covent Garden is not far from the Emirates Stadium or the Stamford Bridge. And the beauty of a goal has much more than just an equivalent in the mad flight of the sounds in an impossible aria …

NB: These texts (about La traviata and La bohème) are written in a style close to slang, because the purpose of the BP Big Screens from the Royal Opera House is to bring opera to masses and to attract new spectators to opera houses.

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