Die Entführung aus dem Serail

As predicted, we had an understudy at last night’s performance of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  This opera is not so frequently done as the da Ponte operas or Die Zauberflöte.  Like Die Zauberflöte, it is in German with spoken dialogue.  In this production the dialogue was in English. 

Michael Martin stood in for Andrew Goodwin in the role of Belmonte. This was a bit disappointing, as I had heard very good reports of Andrew Goodwin.

That’s what is so unfair about being an understudy. The audience should be grateful that the performance is going ahead at all, but instead they are often just disappointed that the advertised artist is not appearing. Michael was OK. It seems as his Opera Australia career, apart from covering as an understudy, has come to an end. That’s a bit tough, but performing artists’ lives are like that.

I have seen this production before, but it had not left a particularly lasting impression.  This time I enjoyed it more than I expected, and especially both of Emma Matthews‘ big arias as Constanza. I normally prefer slow and sad numbers (poignancy is my thing).  What particularly caught my attention was the way that the orchestral accompaniment to Marchen aller Arten (which is Constanza’s big number, fully of vocal fireworks) is really a kind of updated concerto grosso.

In the first act, I sat almost at the right-side end of the front row. This is C reserve ($89). You can only make out the surtitles with difficulty, and with the orchestral seating configuration which was in use last night the violins were too far away and the brass too close. So at the first interval I moved to a single seat in the middle of the row, next to a man whom I think I have seen (always in the front row) at practically every Opera Australia performance I have attended.

He told me that he could remember vividly the first time he had seen Die Entführung, performed by the NSW Opera Company (now defunct) at the Tivoli Theatre in 1952. He was in short pants at the time. I recognized some of the names (Elsie Morris, Ronald Dowd) of the singers he mentioned. When I told him that the first time I saw Die Entführung was at the Semperoper in Dresden, he probably thought I was trying to outdo him: but in truth I think his claim is the more honourable one.  Not that I don’t remember that occasion, which was in 1992 and is the only time I have attended an opera there.  Afterwards, my friend Lars and I roamed the newly-wild city for half the night on borrowed bicycles before taking a very early morning train to Berlin.

I also spotted G and L sitting in the middle of row C just behind me. (Just so you know, that’s B reserve, and about $115 on a subscription for a weeknight). They told me that Wednesday night was their night. Since I became a barrister I have felt obliged to keep my week nights generally clear for work emergencies, so most of my planned-in-advance opera and concert going is now on the weekends. This may explain why we have not run into each other before. They don’t live so far from me, and offered me a lift home afterwards.

G and L are such a singular couple that if I were to describe them any more specifically I would almost inevitably identify them.  Though members or affiliates of the creative classes, they are also both descended from the Catholic professional haut-bourgeoisie, and I have always assumed that their creative endeavours have been buffered by a certain degree of inherited wealth.  All power to them.  What slightly amuses me is that, for creative people, they have their fingers right on the pulse of legal and commercial affairs of the day. 

In part this is a matter of association. They know (or are related to) people in the field. They are the sort of people who are inclined to ask me “What chambers are you in?” and be knowledgeable about the range of possible answers.

Perhaps it is also that as creative freelancers, they are attuned to commerce and business in way that more secure wage-earners are not.  The poet (and late) John Forbes also exhibited something of the same fellow-feeling yet voyeurism concerning such matters.  Perhaps G and L need to keep alert to potential sources of patronage.  For his part, John had a tendency to touch people for loans. I only discovered after his death how fortunate I was to have been repaid.

So I have mentioned the ticket prices not in the spirit of knowing the price of everything but the value of nothing, but as my own acknowledgement of the monetary infrastructure of art.  Not that I allowed myself to dwell on this while I was there last night: that would have inhibited my enjoyment.  (I am, as D is always reminding me, mean for money.)

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