Earlier in the week, I was able to watch an opera for the first time in my life. The more appropriate word than watch is probably experience. I experienced an opera for the first time in my life. I got in touch with one of my good friends Teepee who’s actually a singer. We caught up a few weeks back and she said she was rehearsing for an opera show. I sort of knew Teepee sang opera but I’ve never watched her perform or have heard her sing opera. I only knew she was a fantastic singer with an exceptional voice but I’ve only heard her sing pop songs or Church songs. To make the long story short, she invited me to her show.
Coming into the show, I didn’t really know what to expect. Mostly I was just excited I’m able to watch something that I don’t see everyday. I mean I didn’t even know who did opera in the Philippines plus I really didn’t know what happens in an opera. What I knew about opera is probably clouded with hint of cartoons ala Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, and the scene in Batman Begins when the last thing that the Wayne family did was watch the opera. I’ve watched countless plays in my short lifetime; I even got to watch a Broadway play in New York and a Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas once. So I’ve had my fair share of watching different kinds of things.
The show was held in FEU auditorium and the journey going there was probably an adventure in itself. My Katipunan-bred self was a bit puzzled as to how a school can be situated in such a crowded place. But come to think of it, I guess the students in the University Belt have more grit and guts than anyone because of their location.
I watched with another friend of mine, Kyleen, which was really great because I thought I’d be watching it alone. It’s nice to experience something for the first time and you can have someone to talk to about it. Even though Kyleen and I go to the same Church together, I guess we haven’t really talked to each other a whole lot. I got to know her during those little minutes in the intermissions. So talking to her in between acts was pretty fun. (And I later realized that someone to talk to during intermission was necessary since this opera had more acts and intermission than your average play)
Now, the Opera.
The show was a presentation by LyrOpera (Lyric Opera of the Philippines) and they presented George Bizet’s Carmen. It was directed by Laurice Guillen with the UST Symphony Orchestra under the conduction of William Barkhymer. Carmen is a story mainly about love and how people can get caught up in its traps and ultimately choosing to love somebody. I can’t really put together the story in its entirety because apparently the original Carmen that is being shown in Europe lasts six hours long. You read that right, six long hours. The one that the LyrOpera showed was about half of it cutting some parts so that the show would last roughly around three hours.
The first thing I noticed while I was finding a seat was that an orchestra was right at the center of the stage. In fact, they occupied nearly half of it. I can’t recall if I’ve actually watched an orchestra play on stage or if I just heard them while they played below or at the side of the stage. In any case, it was pretty cool. Looking at the stage, you’d see the violins on the left while the cellos and bass at the right. It was a complete orchestra with various instruments to which most of them are foreign to me.
As the show started, the orchestra began to play this piece which was oddly familiar. Little did I know that the opera Carmen was very famous and I’m sure most of you will recognize a few of the songs when you hear them. The first piece was upbeat, catchy, and can get the attention of anybody. Slowly, the singers came out. They were these big and stocky men who were dressed up as soldiers with their blue uniforms and dummy rifles. After making a few deductions, I can say that the setting was in a Spanish time, I don’t know exactly what era but like Old Spanish complete with old Spanish guards, gypsies, matadors, and the like. So the chorus started to sing. And I have to tell you, the first few seconds of singing was a rush. Here they were, around 10 guys, probably around their late 20’s, and they sang with such unity and calmness that I’ve never heard before. I realized it’s one thing to go see a musical or a play and hear people sing as oppose to an opera. It’s extremely different and I’m amazed at that difference. There was a sense of calmness in their singing; it was like they weren’t making a lot of effort in producing sound out of their mouths and yet they were able to convey a lot of emotions. It was as if as though singing was the same thing as talking. Opera isn’t just about oversized powerhouse voices that we are so accustomed to but it can also be hushed and controlled voices but still with tremendous grace. This sense of amazement and awe carried through the rest of the opera.
The second thing that caught me off guard were these projectors that were situated at both sides of the stage. Coming in, I didn’t really notice them and looking back, even if I did notice them, I could have cared less what were they for. Well, it hit me when the soldiers starting singing… in French. It didn’t occur to me that they wouldn’t be singing in English (which was dumb of me). At first my mind was trying to decipher what language they were singing but as I was wondering off, these projectors light up and they acted as subtitles to the show. It may seem simple, but I find it really interesting because let’s face it, have you ever watched anything on your life that had subtitles on the side while actors were performing on stage? Some people hate subtitles when they’re watching a movie but I actually like it that way. When I watch something, I don’t want to miss on the details, even the tiniest ones, because every detail counts in the story. So while you’re listening to these beautiful voices, you have to look at your side to know what they’re actually singing. That was actually quite fun.
My friend Teepee entered the stage in about the second scene. Now, I said earlier that I’ve watched and heard Teepee sing countless numbers of times in youth camps, Sunday mornings at Church, and even just random moments. We’d be talking about one thing and she can go, “Listen to this song I found, it’s nice” and she sings it. Now when I do that, I usually have an ipod or a youtube is probably on or something. But this girl can absolutely sing. However, little did I realize there was another level in her style of singing. She came on stage wearing this simple blue dress with her hair a little bit longer than usual. Then she started singing with this amazing angelic voice fit for an opera. I remember smiling the whole scene because it’s fun to know someone performing on stage. In the back of your head, there’s a voice saying, “I know her!!” It’s as if you want to just tell the random guy next to you. I found it also amusing to think that just a few days before this show we were talking about dogs and her showing a bunch of pictures she found on the internet, then here she is now singing at an opera. It’s amazing how talented people are.
The show had four acts (or was it five?) with intermissions in between. There was never really a boring moment (well because you had to look at the projectors every three seconds. Haha). But seriously, it was really entertaining. I was surprised at myself because of the songs were oddly familiar. I never knew that Carmen had so many classic pieces like the Habanera or the Toreador. I’m also thankful for Kyleen that I had someone to talk to in all the intermissions. It was such a fun night capped off with a lot of story telling and jokes when the three of us all had a late dinner.
So what was it like going to the opera? It was enchanting, interesting, amazing, entertaining, and simply a lot of fun.