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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Turandot Meets the Little Mermaid

We went to the Local Sacramento Opera production of Turandot last night. The soloists, choir and orchestra were very good, although the large orchestra drowned out about half the vocal performances. Turandot’s arrangement must take after an Italicized version of a Wagnerian paradigm, since the orchestra (including at least 12 brass players) didn’t soften during the singing. The orchestra, in many songs, sounded like the Marine Band with a few strings thrown in. So you get the effect of choir and soloists attempting to scream over the orchestra. This opera always is presented this way.

Seated directly behind us in the nosebleed seats were about 6 high school girls, all in stunning formal gowns and looking good. They had bought the gowns just to wear to the opera. It was like a scene from an old Audrey Hepburn movie. Tierras, gloves, and everything. There were some similarly aged boys running around in ill-fitting rental tuxedos. The casting for Turandot assured that eventually we would get home, since the fat lady did finally sing.

I swear the libretto for this opera could have been written by Disneycorp. The plot in a nutshell:

Evil Princess establishes challenge – answer riddles and win my hand, fail and face the executioner. The comic choir of Taoist priests complain that far too many princes have been executed. They are tired of doing funerals.

Enter handsome stranger. He accepts the challenge. While singing about accepting the challenge, he is reunited with his long lost father and his father’s companion named Lui, a paragon of virtue and pureness of heart.

In his effort to win the princess’s hand, the Stranger allows Lui to face death by torture. Lui’s fate could have been changed by the stranger simply giving up his pursuit of the princess. Alas, that is not the way of opera.

Lui sings a beautiful aria, pierces her own heart with the princess’s hairpin, collapses in a heap, and the Stranger’s father dies of grief.

The princess has a sudden change of heart, marries the stranger, and they live happily ever after.

This ending brought back to mind my irksome thoughts about Disney’s The Little Mermaid (strange for a middle aged man, I know).

You may recall, both Andersen’s and Disney’s Little Mermaid sold daddy’s soul to the sea witch (archetypal interpretation of the devil). However, Disney’s mermaid lived happily ever after, while Anderson’s tragic heroine came to a tearful end appropriate with her callous and selfish behavior.

What lessons are these fables intended to teach? I can only hope that if Puccini had lived to complete Turandot, the ending would have been more of the 19th century tragic opera we’ve come to know and love. With the stars each singing their guts out and croaking in an orderly procession. Isn’t that what opera is all about?

Let’s leave “happily ever after” to the Disneys of the world.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.
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