No Smoking at the Opera House!

I thought of entitling this post Partenope 2.5.

On Saturday afternoon, driving to Upper Colo for a short sylvan sojourn, I caught Acts II and III of Partenope in their live broadcast. I’m sorry I missed Act I, as that would have given me a chance to see if there was something I’d missed the first two times.

Set as it is in a [nineteen-]twenties’ milieu, the production features rather a lot of business with pipes [as in: this is not a ~ ] and cigarettes. Not long after the beginning of Act III, in a tender (and slow) moment featuring Catherine Carby as Arsace, an angry voice rang out from the body of the auditorium [my guess: an older man; my suspicion: senile dementia]: “No smoking at the Opera House!”

Ah! The beauty of live performance!

Of course, product placement is an issue, but I’d be disappointed, over all, if we’d reached the point where stage representations of smoking had to be banned in operas, even if the days of Carmen sponsored by [insert manufacturer of your favourite brand of cigarette] have passed. It’s not as if the audience is likely to have been particularly young and impressionable.

3 Responses to “No Smoking at the Opera House!”

  1. Victor Says:

    Your post reminds me of an incident when I lived in Beijing. It would have been around 1981 and expatriates like myself had packed a theatre invited to a dress rehearsal of Carmen by a French operatic group on a cultural exchange visit.

    Act 1 was underway and the women’s chorus had appeared on stage languidly strolling around and puffing on cigarettes. At this point there was an abrupt interruption to the performance. Political cadres in the audience were scandalised by the sight of these women and were demanding that the performance and the season be cancelled lest the locale populace be corrupted by these images of western decadence.

    The audience watched enthralled as the Director and the operatic company officials tried to explain this classic work to the cadres. Eventually the dress rehearsal resumed. I don’t know what the cadres made of what ensued let alone Carmen’s murder at the end but someone in power must have come onside because the season did proceed.

  2. marcellous Says:

    I bet it was their louche sexual appearance rather than the cigarette-smoking which caused the outrage – though it’s true cigarette smoking was largely the province of men in China until quite recently.

  3. Victor Says:

    Yes, I should have made my comment clearer. It wasn’t so much the cigarettes but the women’s general appearance that engaged the cadres’ concern.

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