Last weekend a friend asked me if I could get together to discuss a script she was working on. Apologetic, I told her I couldn't because I had tickets to the opera. She visibly winced, as if I had mentioned a dreaded gynecological procedure. "I'm so sorry", she said, shooting me a pitying parting glance.
I get it. I do. For some people, three hours spent watching zaftig women and baritone men in tights belt out Italian (or even worse, German) lyrics is the equivalent of hanging out in Dante's seventh circle of hell. But not me. I thoroughly enjoy the opera. And, incidentally, perhaps there's a 24 Hour Fitness near the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion because I haven't seen a legitimately zaftig woman on stage in quite some time.
The opera I saw was The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, or as aficionados call it, The Barber. It only runs until December 19, and I'm sure seating is limited, but if you can swing it - go! I may have mentioned that I'm an opera lover, but if I had been an opera virgin, this production would have made an opera slut out of me. From the moment the curtain rose, the scenery design was spectacular. It played with dimension and shadow before the supporting cast rolled out huge doors that folded back to create a streetscape of seventeenth century Seville. And then the singing started: Nathan Gunn as the suave Figaro; Joyce DiDonato's mezzo-soprano as the vulnerable but knowing Rosina; Juan Diego Florez, a love-struck Count Almaviva; and Bruno Pratico as the portly villain, Doctor Bartolo. They were commanding, resonant, emotive and filled with - no brimming over with - humor! If you're looking for an opera where the heroine throws herself to her death from parapets or slowly wades out to a watery grave, this is not it. I love sturm und drang as much as (quite possibly more than) the next girl, but The Barber was refreshingly upbeat. In a nutshell Figaro, said Barber, is privy to all the gossip surrounding his salon and decides to help his socially prominent friend figure out a way into the fabulous apartment of a stunning young woman who has somehow gotten herself ensnared by a boorish but rich older doctor. In a tale as old as time, and a tale that could not be more perfect for this town, the May-December relationship between Rosina and Bartolo is foiled by the more age-appropriate May-September romance between Rosina and Almaviva. Not only does the spunky and defiant Rosina find true love, but it's all facilitated by their hairdresser! No wonder Ms. Aniston flies her mane man first class, right? And while I spent the first act literally wanting to move into Rosina's perfectly bleached antique wood and Belgian linen fantasy of a parlor, color gradually seeped into the background in the second act, resulting in a kaleidoscope finale fitting for a celebration of true love.
Sure, going to the opera in Los Angeles seems incongruent, somehow. Like walking. Or wearing a tie. But a night out at the opera is one of my favorite things to do in this city. Traipsing up the Pernod-colored stairs in the lobby, with those huge crystal chandeliers shimmering over the golden banisters, it's practically impossible not to glance down and imagine the scene at the 1969 Academy Awards: a young Goldie Hawn passing by Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman and Robert Redford on her way to powder her nose before collecting her Best Supporting Actress statue. Dorothy Chandler is a glamorous grande dame, indeed.
A couple of hints: leave early - ridiculously early. There's nothing worse than being stuck on the Santa Monica Freeway at curtain. And since you're planning on leaving early, make a reservation for dinner. My recommendation is Patina if you're feeling the urge to hit an artistic trifecta: Joachim Splichal's menu is a culinary Bel Canto and you can gawk at Gehry's gleaming Disney Hall as you stroll back for the show. Invest in a pair of opera glasses or Bond-worthy mini-binoculars. Whether you're sitting on the balcony or in the Founders' Circle, you'll still want to get a closer peep at the incredible set and costume design, not to mention the actual beings who possess such powerful voices. On the way to your seats, stop by the bar and pre-order the champagne you'll want at the intermission. Oh, and one more thing. The underground parking is a bit of a labyrinth. So remember - this is Los Angeles. You can always valet.