“Don Giovanni! I invite you to dinner!” So starts one of the most iconic opera scenes. Opera, it is claimed, is the ultimate art. It mixed architecture, song, music and theatre. In opera, all the world is a stage. A fact which I can now confirm from my own experience.
Pressed and neurotically starched to perfection, and armed with my black tie, I went off to the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Like many people I had preconceived notions about opera. Inherited from a childhood watching Bugs Bunny, I believed opera to be a series of over-dramatic scenes, lasting hour upon hour. Here, rotund ladies in horns would engage in shouting matches over violence and romance.
I believed the audience to be composed of high society: aristocrats, oligarchs and Middle Eastern families awash with oil money. On the way to Covent Garden, I imagined conversations I might overhear.
“Sir Tan Lee, old fellow! Jolly good to see you! How have you been? Have you met Sir Vic Charge? He’s the inventor behind the gluten-free tea biscuit. He’s very highly regarded in sugary snack circles. He made four million last month alone.”
“Looks like he’s over there by Lord Havemercy-Onyoursoul. He’s Marquess Mywords, Earl Lee-in-themorning you know. Very well connected, his Lordship. Anyway, enjoy the show old boy! I’ve got to go. I see Dame U Misterbond is waving at me. Can’t keep the old girl waiting.”
Some of my preconceptions were confirmed. Although I did not bump into any aristocrats, the spectators in the best seats, by the stage, were certainly dressed to impress. Sometimes the effect was not as the individual had intended. As when one gentlemen’s hair dye had darkened part of his white collar. Or, when one very posh lady in a grand blue gown, evidently desperate, dislodged a persistent wedgie in full view of the gallery above her – if you do not know what a wedgie is, look up the term. If selfie has made it into the dictionary, wedgie must have too. However, I suggest you put down your sandwich first.
These incidents provided bountiful inspiration for limericks at intermission.
The opera itself was superb. Aside from the murder, within the first ten minutes, and romance, Don Giovanni is a serial playboy, my preconceived notions about opera lay broken. Indeed there was only one murder, and the victim, the Commodore, rather oddly came back to life as a statue. As for the romance, it is the backbone of Don Giovanni. In one scene Don Giovanni’s valet, Leporello, catalogs his master’s conquests. In Spain alone there are 1,003.
In the final scene, Don Giovanni is invited to dinner by the Commodore. He is asked to repent for his sins. The aristocrat repeatedly refuses, which demonstrates a surprising amount of steadfastness and resolve for a philanderer.
Ensues the most dramatic scene of the opera. The music is so powerful it makes you shiver in your seat. Don Giovanni is effectively damned to death and engulfed in flames. The production dispensed with the usual pyrotechnic maelstrom of fire. This proved a disappointment. If there is one thing opera promises it is drama. And, there is nothing more dramatic than an un-dead statue condemning a libertine aristocrat to death by fire.