Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Go see it for the dancing sheep!

I'm not entirely sure what I just experienced.

I know the facts: it was English National Opera's production of Jacques Offenbach's La Belle Hélène, starring Dame Felicity Lott as Helen of Sparta and Toby Spence as Paris. But the facts are meaningless.

The opera started, strangely enough, with a t.v. flickering onstage and musical strains coming from it (or, more likely, from a small ensemble playing offstage) as Helen walks into the room to find that her boring husband Menelaus has fallen asleep watching t.v. again in this passionless marriage. So Helen falls asleep herself, and the chorus and dancers pay her homage and leave her bouquets. They leave, and Calchus (Zeus' servant) and someone else have spoken dialogue wherein he complains that they never leave burnt offerings anymore. And then the curtain descends—ten minutes into the opera!

Okay, so this has got to be the shortest first act in history, right. I mean, hell, the leading lady hasn't even sung a note yet! Minutes later the director emerges to inform us of "technical difficulties." Another fifteen minutes later the artistic director emerges to explain what the "technical difficulties" are and to inform us that "we think we can fix it without calling in a technician." Great! At this point, I'm hoping that they'll cancel the performance and refund our monies. The first ten minutes, half of which was dialogue, did not exactly inspire me; the opera was being performed in English, and I am not a fan of operas in translation; and the £8 nosebleed seats were uncomfortable, to say the least. (Good thing I was in an aisle seat with no one sitting to my right, in front of, or behind me, allowing me to sprawl and squirm as needed.)

Yet at 8:30, an hour after the first curtain, the lights went down, the curtain went up, the orchestra played, and the dancers danced…and, in the context of the rest of the show, it wouldn't surprise me at all if these "technical difficulties" were staged. When Parthoenis and Leoenis (Orestes's slutty companions) appeared wearing very skimpy and revealing lingerie, I started to get sucked in to the madness. This is where my powers of description fail me utterly. I cannot describe what transpired over the next couple of hours, just give you snippets here and there:

  • Kudos to the translator. Anyone who rhymes "it doesn't matter" with "theomorphic satyr" gets an A+ in my book!
  • "I can't remember the shepherd boy's name. Something French."
  • Of course Leda couldn't resist mating with waterfowl. It makes perfect sense to me!
  • Helen asks who could possibly be more beautiful that her. Her cousin Penelope? No. Cleopatra? No. "Charlotte Church?" "Who?" "Precisely!"
  • The sight of burly Agamemnon cowering and tightly hugging a pillow on top of the bed was priceless, topped only by Agamemnon and Achilles' chorus line dance in Act III!
  • What the hell were Ajax A and B wearing on their heads? Push brooms?
  • Lest the lingeried ladies give the impression there was only eye candy for straight men: Act III opened with athletic men in speedos "swimming" across the stage. They then proceeded practically to dry hump their female counterparts (clad in one-piece bathing suits) in positions that would relegate the Kama Sutra to "beginner's manual" status.
  • And let's not forget that Paris spends half the opera shirtless.
  • A cross-dressing Orestes? (Well, technically, a pants role—a mezzo singing the part of a male, wearing a flashy suit and a fake beard.) Gotta love it!
  • Act II opens with burly men in Tilley hats dancing with wheelbarrows.
  • The Act II love duet between Queen Helen and Paris the Shepherd Boy was amusing enough in and of itself. When the sheep started flocking onstage, the visuals were too funny not to laugh. When the sheep started dancing, I was spasming with laughter. But when the sheep paired up and began nuzzling and then fornicating…!
  • The song about smearing Menelaus' good name? Classic!
  • I really don't know how to describe this bit: The orchestra goes silent. Suddenly, Paris starts making this loud, high-pitched sound, somewhat like a trill. And Agamemnon starts om-pah-pahing. And the other Greek heroes (Achilles and Ajax A and B) and Calchus join in, each making a different sound, and it's a really weird vocal effect which I wish I could both describe better and hear again.
  • I can't believe—okay, yes I can—that Agamemnon actually said, "He's hopping mad!" as Achilles hopped away, mad!
  • At the end, Paris descends from the heavens onto the Greek seaside resort as Aphrodite's Auger in a mattress with a sail on top, wearing only a loose-fitting toga, a shiny watch, sunglasses, and a pompadour. And he's yodelling. YODELLING!!! (And he threw in a few Elvis-like hip gyrations for good measure….)

It was extremely enjoyable and quite surreal, whatever that was I saw.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 28th, 2006 03:30 am (UTC)
Sounds like Opera by way of the stage production of The Producers.

But could they sing?
Apr. 28th, 2006 09:32 am (UTC)
The singing, especially Helen and Paris, was quite good. Of course, Felicity Lott is an internationally-acclaimed star, so one knew she'd be good.
Apr. 28th, 2006 03:41 am (UTC)
But could they yodel? Can you yodel? How hard is yodelling for the trained professional anyway?
Apr. 28th, 2006 09:35 am (UTC)
The yodelling sounded good to me.

I'm sure that with practice I could yodel. It's probably not all that difficult to the trained professional, at least not moreso than any difficult passage. It's just not a sound one is accustomed to hearing in opera.
Apr. 29th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
the opera was being performed in English, and I am not a fan of operas in translation

My opera critic friend M. told me that everything the English National Opera stages is in English.

I saw them do The Marriage of Figaro a few years ago and enjoyed it immensely.
Apr. 29th, 2006 09:33 am (UTC)
Yes, I found out this is the case at Orfeo last night.
Apr. 30th, 2006 04:25 am (UTC)
They're likely to revive burlesque after a show like that.
May. 1st, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
That was quite possibly the most amazing thing I've read on LJ in a while....it sounds eerily like an ART production. I wish there were fornicating sheep in Orpheus X, but there were only fat people arm-wrestling naked singing about almonds and fish. I hope Rob Woodruff never reads your LJ, lest he get idea for next season from this.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

December 2016
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner