I blame the bassoon player. She set it all in motion with a whisper to the trombone guy. Then the brass section played musical chairs (after a fashion) and I ended up with the trumpet player's huge head between me and the stage. That was pretty much all I saw of La Bohème tonight, the trumpet player's massive head, blocking out Mimi, Rodolfo, Marcello, Musetta and the rest.
You'd have thought front row seats at my first opera would be a perfect way to see and hear. But the Luther Burbank Center wasn't built for opera. It was a church, once upon a time, one of those places where a popular (and populist) preacher brings in the masses from all around. I went to a wedding there twenty years ago when it was still a church.
I'm not sure whatever happened to that preacher and his congregation, but the place is now a community arts center. It's been remodeled, and you no longer sit in wooden pews when you go to a concert there, but it's still not an opera house.
And when an opera is produced, there has to be some place for the orchestra. At the LBC, that's right down on floor level in front of the stage. A few rows of seats had to be removed to make room for them.
Our tickets said we were in row E. I didn't know that meant we were in the front row until the usher led us there. We were ecstatic, for about ten seconds. Then we saw how close the bass drum and cymbals were. Little did we know that would be the least of our problems.
Now, don't get the wrong idea. I'm not complaining about the seats or the show. And when the musicians started finding their places, I still thought we were okay. The trombone player was in front of me and next to him were the two trumpets.
Just those three were between us and the stage, and the trombone guy wasn't very big. I could have seen around his little head easily, but for some reason the bassoonist, who was seated in the row in front of him, didn't want him behind her. She came around and whispered something to him, and he switched seats with the second trumpet, who had been nearest the stage and safely out of the way.
So now this guy with a head like a Macy's parade balloon was sitting about three feet in front of me. Suddenly half the stage was gone. For some reason almost the whole opera was performed on the half of the stage I couldn't see. I don't know why it had to be that way, but it was.
Mom was sitting on my right, and she had a slightly better view than I did. The people to my left had a slightly better view than I did. I had a wonderful view of the trumpet player's head, and the empty other half of the stage. But I'm not complaining, please remember that.
The orchestra was great, the singers had magnificent booming voices, and Puccini's music is a delight. Since this was my first live opera, it was my first experience with supertitles. I don't know how long those have been available to non-Italian audiences, and maybe only English speakers need them. Maybe only Americans need them, but they do help.
And I could see them, since they were well above the top of the great horn-blowing melon. Sometimes the supertitles were all I could see. I can't vouch for the staging of the opera. I'm sure it was fine, but I missed quite a lot of it. I know Mimi died at the end, she always does. But she did it in the shadow of the biggest head in the world. Rodolfo went rushing across the stage to be at her side, and he simply vanished behind la cabezota.
The funny thing is, the brass section hardly plays. A few notes here and there along the way are all their part amounts to. Most of the time the trumpet was resting on the floor next to him, and he was sitting back with his arms folded, following the sheet music on the stand in front of him. Every so often he'd pick up his instrument and blow a note or two, then rest again.
If not for the costumes and the fact that the characters take Polaroid snapshots of each other during the street scene, you wouldn't know this version of La Bohème was set in 1960. I thought I was signing up for a traditional 1830's version of the opera, because we're seeing Baz Luhrmann's Broadway production of it next month. That one is set in 1960, and it created a lot of controversy when he first staged it that way in Australia several years ago. I wanted to compare and contrast, but in the end it doesn't matter. You can hardly tell the difference. I was just surprised, that's all.
We both enjoyed the experience. Neither of us had been to an opera before, but it was pretty much what I expected after watching a few of them on television. Santa Rosa doesn't have its own opera company, and they're expensive to produce so I don't expect that will change. The LBC brings one opera here each year, and I'll try to make it an annual tradition. I'll probably try the balcony next time, though.