The Snob has returned to our neighbourhood for some time. Many years ago, when we were still kids, he was one of the bumps. I liked him, and not just because he was the only one who was still playing silly games with us, the girls. But there was something different about him, and one can see that better now, when he has graduated, he has a good job and he has continued to cultivate his passions for movies or opera. He is more interesting, even a little ridiculous, since he returned and he has been pestering us about going to the opera. He keeps telling us that if we just watch TV and do nothing else, our life will turn sad and bad. He’s such a naive! Two months ago, he took us all to see La traviata. Then, after the final match of the boys, he simply dragged Fanny to Boema. And three days ago he came and asked me “to accompany him” (I swear this is the word he used!, and I was so amused by his politeness) to Rigoletto. I accepted on the spot and only afterwards I realised I had no idea about what it meant. Therefore, dear diary, I will write here how things happened. But first, I think I should write some important details about the performance I saw:
the 17th of September 2014, one Wednesday,
Giuseppe Verdi: RIGOLETTO
Director: David McVicar; Set designs: Michael Vale; Movement director: Leah Hausman
Dimitri Platanias (Rigoletto), Eri Nakamura (Gilda), Saimir Pirgu (Ducele), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Sparafucile), Nadezhda Karyazina (Maddalena), Luis Gomes (Borsa), Jihoon Kim (Contele Ceprano), Duncan Rock (Marullo), Elizabeth Sikora (Giovanna), Dong-Hwan Lee (Monterone)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Royal Opera Chorus
Conductor: Maurizio Benini, Concert Master: Peter Manning
I had to call him, I was desperate: how should I dress? I googled Rigoletto: it is an opera, people go to the opera in the evening, like to the theatre, and women come in evening gowns. I went to Bucharest National Opera House, but it was closed and there was no mention about any performances. But he calmed me down: we were going to some friends who had Sky TV and we would see this story on a huge screen. “Dress nicely, Kid, but no gala dress, it’s nothing about it. Come on, relax, I think you’ll like it”, and I heard him laughing in his sleeve. If this is a prank, like they use to do in our block, these assholes, I’ll kill him! But the fact that he called me Kid, a nick name he invented a long time ago, and that nobody uses today, dazzled me a little. I wonder, is he making a move on me? Very well, I am free.
We got to his friends that evening – I didn’t know them, but I was surprised to see Fanny there. Just for the sake of conversation (I didn’t know what to say, and I was also curious), I asked him how he remembered the “Kid” and, after all, how did he make this name up? He smiled and told me: “It’s from a movie you can’t forget: Casablanca”. He simply drives me crazy, this guy, now I’ll have to see this movie again, it’s an old, black and white movie, and I simply didn’t remember the name Humphrey Bogart used. Well, the clothes I chose were fine, because I finally gave up the super skinny jeans, for a skirt and a blouse I had bought especially for this event. It was ok, everybody was dressed in a civilised style, even Fanny, who had given up the FC Barcelona T-shirt and was wearing a shirt (and the most spectacular detail – a long sleeved shirt, hahaha!). At the end, I could say the evening was very nice, not at all like the experience Pretty Woman had when taken to the opera by Richard Gere, but it was not far from that, and it impressed me more than I had expected. Little by little, I get to understand it and maybe these boys are right, in their special way…
Fortunately, the broadcast started with an introduction, so I understood what I was to see next. I wanted to be nicely dressed because, you know, “instead of being stupid and ugly, it’s better to be only stupid”, but, after this introduction, I didn’t feel stupid anymore. What? I haven’t been to the opera until now, it was normal to feel like an ignorant. And all the people there, four couples, were talking about Rigoletto and seemed to know so many things and mentioned so many names that meant nothing to me. But I remember that the set design, the costumes and the direction were not new, this was not a premiere, but a revival of David McVicar’s production of 2001. The role of the Duke had been sung by Marcello Alvarez (2001) or Vittorio Grigolo (2012). Tonight, there was a satellite broadcast, on huge screens in the squares of 14 British cities, sponsored by British Petroleum. When I see something like this in Romania, sponsored by Lukoil (for example), I’ll admit we have made real progress. And, to a certain extent, when I saw the people gathered in Trafalgar Square, London, I realised that we were attending a picnic-opera, too, we were having fun, but we were enjoying a very serious performance.
I had understood that Giuseppe Verdi’s opera was based on a play written by Victor Hugo, about the excesses and the depravation of French aristocracy in the Middle Ages. But, at the Covent Garden, the director had imagined a more abstract and atemporal concept. It seemed like the Middle Ages, if we looked at the costumes, but the orgy at the very beginning seemed to come from a movie with mafiosi, and even more, it resembled a lot to the stories of some guys who mingled with the underworld of Bucharest. To cut the long story short, this combination of vintage costumes, industrial set design, and nudity (to be honest, I hadn’t expected this), but with a classical music background was so explosive, that I asked for one more glass of champagne. The Snob’s friends were snob, too, in their own way: OK, we are not in an opera house, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t behave as if we were in one, so, tonight, we’ll have champagne and hors d’oeuvre, no popcorn and no cola. I get back to the plot of the opera and I must write that all this orgy, presented in a very realistic manner, was coordinated by one character, the Duke of Mantua. The one who sang or played (in fact, both of them) was a certain Saimir Pirgu, a handsome boy, young and with a good voice (I understood he was Albanese and this made me like him even more). Even though people around me were saying that Verdi is no Mozart, that Don Ottavio (I don’t know who this Don Ottavio is and I’ll ask Fanny, otherwise the Snob will think I am a complete idiot) is one thing, but the Duke is from another league. Well, I liked him, he was a cutie and I could see he had what was needed for a great singer, even though he didn’t look at all like the tenors I knew, Pavarotti or Domingo, who were some old, fat, imposing persons, who simply produced beautiful sounds, well, you know, that kind of men – if somebody sees you in town with them, they will say you’re doing it for money.
Rigoletto is a jester, in fact he is the monkey at the Duke’s court. He has a girl, Gilda, that the Duke loves. The events unfold in a very complicated way, and the chance plays an important part, too, but the idea is that the Duke is in bed with Gilda, and Rigoletto gets so furious, that he pays an assassin to kill the Duke. But, and this can happen only in operas, Gilda sacrifices herself – she dresses as a man and lets herself being killed instead of the Duke, who keeps partying, with women and booze. The story is pretty intense, and I must recognise that what matters is not the subject, but the way of telling it. Those people on stage, who were singing, they were telling and playing the story in such a way, that I got in a very pensive mood. Much more than I had expected.
I cannot tell too many things about music, because I simply don’t have the necessary musical knowledge. I heard all sorts of discussions around me, and I didn’t understand them, so I’ll just copy them here (I can remember everything), but for me this experience was related to emotion, to what you feel, to your perspective about life, because I remembered some events from my life, that I found in the opera, too. The other guests were talking about a concert that had been in Bucharest, with Saimir Pirgu, about whether he had sung well or not, about whether his voice was appropriate for that part or not. Their conclusion was that he had sung well, but that his voice was not appropriate. How can that be? But I remembered he had come to Bucharest, and I was sorry I hadn’t known about him and his concert; the idea is that if this boy returns to Romania, I won’t miss him. They said he had sung a Recviem… Then, they discussed about the soprano, Eri Nakamura, and somebody put a DVD on the table, with a movie (I thought it was a movie, but it was another opera) called Turandot. And they all started to comment about the director of this Turandot, who was Andrei Șerban (I had no idea that a Romanian got to be a director in London), and that Nakamura was more authentic there than here, that it was a normal thing for her to be more authentic there, because the subject was China, and she came from Asia, but that all this doesn’t matter after all. And why am I writing all these things? Because, no matter how interesting and abstract these discussions are, for me they had nothing to do with what was most important – the fact that all we saw on the screen transmitted an emotion and I would have liked those people to talk about this, maybe I could have said a few words, too, but they didn’t seem interested in having such a conversation. Well, later I realised I was not right, as I could see they were troubled, with tears in their eyes, in the more intense scenes. But still I thought this was not normal.
Rigoletto was a certain Dimitri Platanias, another name that meant nothing to me. But this guy reminded me of my father, in a very curious way. I felt like laughing when I imagined my father on stage, singing opera. My father is a bus driver, but I remembered that nothing is impossible, as long as this guy, Costel Busuioc, is a bricklayer and sings opera. On the other hand, I felt like crying because, as ridiculous as my father could have seemed in an opera role, it would have been the role of his life: he wouldn’t have to play a character, he would just have to be himself. I remember when I was 17 and I went out with my boyfriend and papa got so mad and preached to me, and gave me moralistic speeches, but he never scolded me. One night, it’s true that I was very late, I was in front of our block and I was kissing with this boy, who started to touch me in all sorts of places (and I simply loved his cheekiness). Father appeared out of the blue and slapped the boy: “You leave my girl alone, she has to graduate, and afterwards she can do whatever she wants, but now, you just go away! And if I see you again, I’ll break your bones, not just your jaw!”. I remember I cried so much, but papa never said anything to me those days, he just looked at me with his sad eyes, and he seemed to suffer, but I couldn’t understand why. And he has had that sadness in his eyes ever since, even now, even when it is mixed with sincere joy. With him, everything was allowed and possible, but when it came to his daughter, things changed completely. His daughter, whom he took to the movies, to the skating rink, his daughter to whom he gave rides in his bus, how could he let his daughter to another man? He would have done anything against anyone who dared “take advantage” of me. Luckily for everyone, including for me, my life had nothing to do with Gilda’s tragedy, and still I felt like living again my adolescence when I see this opera. I will end this chapter, but one more thing – there is a scene when, after Gilda is kidnapped and she sleeps with the Duke and Rigoletto suspects everyone, the jester sings an aria (I nearly wrote “a song”, but the correct word is “aria”) called Cortigiani, vil razza dannata, where the rage of the character mixes so beautifully with the prayer and the humility, that I really had my father in front of my eyes, with his fits of rage that were calmed and even overwhelmed by tenderness, when he saw me. I think I am crazy. I would be ashamed to talk about this, anybody would say I have gone mad. What relation can exist between Giuseppe Verdi and my poor neighbourhood of the years 2000? Do you find this normal? Come on, this is just music, you dance to music, you listen to it in the car, you are on Facebook with music in the background, you don’t cry to music! You are moved by a book, by a movie, but not by music. I made some efforts not to have a nervous breakdown, I didn’t get up from my armchair because I didn’t want everybody to see how troubled I was.
I left Gilda for the end. Because Gilda is me, in fact, a part of Gilda is me, 100%, and I think any girl has something of this character, at least at a certain moment, at least when she falls in love with the wrong guy (and we have all felt this, I think). And she has an aria, in the first part of the opera, when she is in love, it is called Caro nome, and she keeps on singing about the name of her lover, who is the Duke, but this one has lied to her and told her he was a poor student and his name was Gualtier Maldè. I am sure many girls have hankered after John, Jim or Jerry, without knowing they could sing, in fact without knowing that, more than 100 years ago, somebody composed an aria that says everything about the sweet names of the boys we love…
We went home, the three of us, the Snob, Fanny and I. We were quiet, I guess each of us was impressed, in his own way, by the opera. At a certain moment, Fanny started to sing the Duke’s aria, from the last act, with the silly words we knew from childhood: “Milhouse is teaching me / To speak so prettily. / I’ll quip so wittily. / When I’m in Italy….”, then he stopped: “We were all so silly!”. We burst into laughter and the Snob looked at us and said: “You must know that Benini conducted very well, in an Italian style, the right style… This opera is about people, in flesh and blood, I was a Duke myself once, and maybe I will be a Rigoletto one day. And you, Gilda, as I will call you Gilda from now on, what do you think?”. I thought and said nothing, I just swallowed and I ran home without saying good bye.
Note: These texts (about La traviata and La bohème and Rigoletto) 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.