Olympic Athletes and Opera

We watched the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing last night, and though I’m not terribly interested in sports, I admit I get a lump in my throat seeing all those people from all those different countries, including ours, looking so proud and at peace with themselves and each other no matter who’s fighting each other politically or on the battlefields. The little flashlights passed out to everyone made an impressive backdrop for the stadium, and the Chinese athlete that let himself be hooked to cables so he could “walk” airborne to light the big Olympic torch was a rather remarkable feat itself. But I couldn’t help thinking how a fraction of the cost of producing such a spectacle could have done so much good in so many other ways for the Chinese people.

Now, with the last load of laundry in the washer and Hubby focused on the events in Beijing, this might be a good time to catch up here on my Wintersong. It rained fairly nicely in the valley yesterday, but only gave us a sprinkle–or as Mama used to say, a lick and a promise–so it’s still hot and sunny. Things could be worse. I try and remember that, and complaining doesn’t do any good anyhow.

I think this may also be a good time to tell you about the opera we attended in Logan on Thursday. Before I begin, let me just say that we both thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon. Not just the opera (Verdi’s Aida) , but the tasty lunch at Bluebird Cafe. We met some very nice and helpful people and enjoyed the slowed down atmosphere of this small town, and were amused by the waitress who tried for 30 minutes to think of something interesting to do in Logan after we finished at the Opera but couldn’t. It’s just that every time I attend an event like an opera or a concert or lecture on economics or some such stiff subject, my alter-ego goes with me. By that I mean the country girl–bumpkin if you will–that still lives inside me. The little girl who grew up in such different times and different surroundings, who is still easily overwhelmed by things like ballet, and opera, and Bell Canto. They remain so foreign to her experience.

There are those that say fiction (and I presume this means the storylines in operas too) only has seven story lines available. Anything else is just variation and plot twists. So opera can’t be all that complicated, can it? But Aida is the very first opera I’ve attended. I also appreciate the fact that opera is more about drama and art of the music than the plot. So how sophisticated do you have to be to appreciate it? Not so much, I think, in spite of everything. Just remember if you decide to read further, this “review” is written by that alter ego, not my more sophisticated self.

In Memphis (that’s not Tennessee, folks), Radames is outside Pharaoh’s palace when he learns that Ethiopia has invaded Egypt. He hopes the Pharoah will choose him to lead the Egyptian army against the invaders because if he wins he thinks he can use his hero’s leverage to free his lover, Aida, from her slavery. She’s a favorite slave to Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter.

Unbeknownst to Radames, however, Amneris has a crush on him. We know this because, while Aida is singing about being torn between her love for Radames and her love for her native land (which is Ethiopia, incidentally) Amneris is singing a similar song out of Aida’s earshot. So we know right away that both Radames and Aida are both in a pickle, but they don’t know yet.

Naturally Radames is chosen as the leader of the Egyptian army. The High Priest, Ramfis, gives him a golden spear and blesses him. And then everybody prays to Isis to let them kill those bad Ethiopians, so we’re pretty sure already who’s going to win the war already, because without Radames, there’s no plot left.

Act II, scene 1: Yup, sure enough the Egyptian army is victorious. We know because Amneris is jumping around in her bedroom, surrounded by her servants, just beside herself because Radames will be returning in all his triumph pretty soon. So she flops down on her couch and calls him on her cellphone and tells him to hurry on back and get his just desserts and we’re pretty sure she means herself. (No, she wasn’t really on a cellphone, but just for a minute it looked like she was but I guess that was a theatrical gesture, that throwing her hand up on the side of her face covering her ear.)

But all this time Amneris is a little worried about Aida and Radames because she saw how lovestruck they looked when the three of them were together one day; so later, when they’re all alone in the princess’s room, Amneris tricks Aida into confessing her love for Radames by telling her that Radames died in the war, just to see her reaction. Up to then Aida had been her favorite servant, and she always seemed to be nearby carrying a very large basket in which she carried tons of needlework, no doubt sewing and mending to keep Amneris dressed like the princess she was. Well, I guess you can imagine the commotion Aida caused when she thought her lover was dead. But right there Amneris has her AH HA moment, as Oprah would say.

They all celebrate with a big party and the Pharaoh drops by and meets Radames. He tells his daughter (Amneris) to place a victor’s crown on Radames, and then sure enough offers him whatever his heart desires, just as Radames had thought he would. In the meantime, to complicate matters, the prisoners have been led in, and who should be in the lead but King Amonasro who–as luck would have it–is Aida’s father, except that he’s disguised as an officer. Radames knows this, so instead of asking for Aida’s freedom and hand in marriage, he feels compelled to ask that the prisoners be released instead. He knows Aida would be really upset to lose her father. The Pharoah agrees and then quickly gives him Amneris’s hand and they all celebrate and begin to plan the wedding.

Amneris is led by the High Priest (Ramfis) to the Temple of Isis in order to prepare for her marriage the next day. Amneris tells the Priest to go and pray all night in the Temple and she’ll go with him, so he does. I don’t think Amneris trusts many people.

Meanwhile Aida, who’s been demoted (we know this because she’s carrying a smaller basket now) is grieving for her homeland and is waiting for Radames, presumably for one last little fling before his marriage to Amneris. But while she’s waiting, her father creeps up (remember, he was freed because of Radames) and he convinces her to ask Radames to reveal the plans of the Egyptian army so Ehthiopia can have one more go at them. She refuses, but then agrees to talk to Radames about it so Amonasro hides nearby so he can listen.

When Radames finally gets there he assures Aida of his never dying love for her. They start singing, both of them trying to be louder than the other one, like a couple does when they’re fighting, and somewhere about then she gets him to reveal the Egyptian army’s next war strategy. Then Amonasro struts out and Radames realizes too late that he’s made a big mistake!

Then, who should pop in on the scene but Amneris and the High Priest. Remember, they’ve been praying all night within hearing distance right there in the Temple of Isis, which is apparently a very popular meeting place, and Radames and Aida have been singing loud enough to wake the dead all that time. Radames knows his time has come so he surrenders to Ramfis as a traitor, and at that point we know things are only going to get worse.

Finally we’re at the Palace Hall of Judgment where Amneris offers to spare Radames if he will marry her and forsake Aida. By this time the Ethiopians have mostly all been killed already, and that includes Amonasro, Aida’s father. “Nothing doing,” he says, “my heart belongs to Aida,” whom nobody has seen for awhile. After that the High Priest comes to give him his sentence: buried alive. Now Aida, who’s able to sneak around a lot better now that she only has a small basket to carry around, leaves the palace and goes and hides herself in Radames’s tomb to wait.

Now you’d think the bunch of mean men the Pharoah hires to do his dirty work would have the common sense to search the tomb before they kick Radames in and leave. Instead they just cuss at him a little bit and leave, and don’t even notice the lump of rags over in the corner. Well, we know that’s Aida, but Radames doesn’t know that just yet so he starts to sing about how he’s lost his Aida forever, and prays that she’ll find her way safely back to her beloved homeland, Ethiopia.

His singing wakes Aida up, so the lovers finally embrace and sing together, and just as the spotlight sweeps up to show Amneris above them (but she can’t see them–she’s outside the tomb) he lays a big one on her lips. Then Amneris starts singing and praying to Isis for peace on earth and goodwill to all men.

If I could have talked to Aida and Radames, I would have reminded them that they probably had several days left there in the cave all by themselves before death took them, so they might just as well make the best of that time they did have left. Either that or start digging. Because I can’t believe a girl from Ethiopia wouldn’t have planned ahead and smuggled in a little shovel. What else could she have been keeping in that little basket anyway?

So there, you have it. My country girl alter ego’s explanation of the simple story of Aida, as performed in four acts, sung in Italian, and with projected supertitles (across the top of the stage) in English, at the Utah Festival Opera in Logan, Utah, estimated population just under 7,000. Not quite the sweeping production Hubby saw in Vienna years ago, to be sure, but my very first Opera. Now that I have a Verdi under my (opera) belt, I think I’m ready for Puccini. Maybe next year.

3 thoughts on “Olympic Athletes and Opera

  1. I SO agree with all you said about the Olympics, especially your last line.
    It just boggles my mind that ALL this money has been spent, while poverty is rampant in that country.
    But what really also gets me is……the atheletes can barely BREATHE, for God’s sake! But we HAD to have the Olympics there. That committee is totally political. It’s insane! It’s stopped being about the sports many years ago…..such a shame.

  2. I enjoy the Olympics but not in that God forsaken place.

    And yeah, try Puccini! He’s my fave — especially Turandot.

    How this poor girl became a culture vulture is anathema to me — I guess I have big dreams in my small life,

  3. Oh I love your retell of the opera! I wish Logan wasn’t so far from St. George.

    I love to watch the Olympic events and can’t imagine how all those athletes can have such endurance and stamina. I am surprised at the countryside pictures of China. It is nothing like I imagined it to be. I pictured it as having no countryside with green fields and beautiful trees.

    It is sad about the American couple who were attacked, the husband killed and the wife seriously injured.

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