Sunday, October 25, 2009

The opera Aida or "Where is the elephant?"

I took my younger son to see the Metropolitan Opera HD movie showing of Aida at the local movie theater. We arrived an hour early to get good seats and found that about a hundred old people were already there. My son and I took our places in line and were greeted by an elderly lady, who observed that my son was "out of the loop" for the opera. I took her misfire of modern slang to mean that my son was much younger than everyone else present. She could have made nearly the same statement to me: I was clearly in the youngest tenth of the opera crowd.

The opera Aida tells the story of the Ethiopian slave girl Aida, who as an aid to the plot was formerly the Princess of Ethiopia. Aida serves the Egyptian king's daughter, Princess Amneris, and is secretly in love with the noble warrior Ramades. Princess Amneris is also enamored of Ramades, thus completing the love triangle that provides the foundation for this weighty pyramid of an epic opera.

Unfortunately, the opera's romantic intrigues left me dozing in my seat for the most part. I didn't care whether Aida or Amneris snared the noble Ramades, who seemed more interested in leading the Egyptian army and slaughtering Ethiopians than in pitching woo. I catnapped through the love scenes and the jealous confrontations between Aida and Princess Amneris.

Then the grand music of the triumphal procession in Act 2 made me sit upright and take notice. Verdi's music swelled to a glorious accompaniment for the parade of foot soldiers, archers, spearmen, horses, and Ethiopian captives that passed before the royal grandstand. All that was lacking was an elephant. Then male and female dancers appeared and performed an energetic battle dance. I noted that the female dancers all looked identical -- narrow-faced brunettes with lithe bodies of the same height. Perhaps the Met Opera has secretly perfected a dancer cloning process.

After this stirring Act 2, the opera returned to the love triangle and I resumed my intermittent naps. The usual operatic complications ensued and it all finished unhappily. Ramades was tricked into betraying Egypt. Ramades and Aida were then buried alive. Princess Amneris ended up all alone and feeling blue as the curtain descended. But I, on the other hand, rose from my seat feeling rested and chipper. My son, who had remained conscious throughout the entirety of the opera's four long acts, was listless and grumbly.

To fully appreciate opera, the younger generation must learn how to pace themselves.