The Magic Flute Experiment Proves Opera Is Best Served Without Soft Pretzels

magic flute.jpg
Photo credit: Luke McKenzie, The Dallas Opera
On April 28, 2012, The Dallas Opera and Cowboys Stadium simulcast The Magic Flute live into Cowboys Stadium for an audience of approximately 15,000.

This weekend the Dallas Opera went big and presented a simulcast of The Magic Flute at Cowboy Stadium. It was an attempt to break the world record for most seated attendees at an opera simulcast. (It didn't quite make it; It seems we don't do everything bigger in Texas.) It was also done as a gift, a way to expose the general public (us) to opera.

Here's the problem with that: Opera should be for the elite. Sorry, but that's what I was half-thinking as I tweeted, checked my status updates and generally ignored the majority of The Magic Flute on Saturday.

Like many, Puccini was my gateway drug opera composer. It was Tosca, and when she died I cried like a drunk toddler. I was pathetic, sobbing my face off surrounded by senior citizens whose oxygen tanks filled the isles of the Miami venue, and I'm pretty one of them call me a pussy. Fine. I just wasn't expecting it. Until I took the plunge and went, I thought opera was something drab that you were meant to sit through patiently, golf clap after and then remark "wasn't that lovely?" about. I didn't know that the raw unamplified strength of the human voice, when left to soar to the rafters of a well-designed building would sucker punch me, emotionally. But it does, or rather, it should.

Had my first experience been last Saturday, I wouldn't have become a life-long fan of the genre. See, The Magic Flute was chosen because the Dallas Opera wanted to give a community gift that families could use, and if there's such a thing as a child-friendly opera, it's this one. The stage looks like some "Star Trek" lessor-planet; the costumes are just strange; there's a singing bird and all kinds of dancing forest animals. Think: H.R. Pufnstuf makes an opera and you've got The Magic Flute. It hit me hardest when there was a lull in the English translations on the jumbo tron; I felt like I was watching a German acid trip. Also, there is no compelling storyline; it's a loosely constructive narrative from Mozart's crazier, mega-Masonic years. So while you know that you're supposed to care about the fairy tale couple in the matching powder blue outfits, you just start Googling "Mozart syphilis brain rot" instead.

While TMF isn't going to be most adult's favorite opera based on its plot, won't the superhuman vocal talents of the performers evoke an emotional response from the crowd? Not at Cowboy Stadium. It was a grand experiment, but there's no way to control the reverberation in a space of this size. We knew this going in, but thought maybe there was some NASA magic that we were unaware of, ready to be unleashed for sound purposes. It was difficult to gauge where a note started and finished, much less be knocked down by its power; I don't think opera can be enjoyed in this environment.

That's the problem. The Dallas Opera had a noble goal: it knows how life-enriching the experience of opera is and how it can affect those who are exposed to it, and so they utilized their resources and attempted to do just that on the grandest scale imaginable. But by its own design opera is best enjoyed in an opera house. It's in the tremor of a soprano's plea or the pitch-perfect sob of a ruined lover that we find a human connection and a reason to care.

Yep, it's classist. Tough. Opera is very expensive to produce: the stage, venue and talent comes with a high price point. And it must be a limited quantity of seats. After a certain venue size is reached, you won't hear that woman die from tuberculosis in the back of the house. For its quality and standards to be upheld, it's the public's responsibility to suck it up and buy a ticket to the Winspear. If last Saturday's offering wasn't your cup of tea, or in this case, big gulp of Dr. Pepper, that's natural. Investigate further. Set aside a couple of bar tabs worth of money and shell for seats at next season's Aida. The Winspear doesn't sell soft pretzels like Cowboy Stadium, but the music will change you in a way that carbs never can.


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2 comments
cha-ka
cha-ka

What a pathetic review from someone who isn't classist, but an 'ass'ist.  Purists from a generation or two ago hated the use of subtitles, yet you don't rant about that.  Perhaps whatever you like is only 'right' and any other ideas before and after your time are just 'wrong'.  It's people and attitudes like yours that push people away from new things.  I've seen a few live shows, Winspear & Live at the Met in HD, along with a few PBS airings.  To you I apologize for not driving across the country to the Met, but I've enjoyed a few shows at my local theater.  If you see me at the Winspear in the near future, I'll be the one trying to enjoy the show and not trying to piss on everyone like you....

dallasmay
dallasmay

I went to the show at the Stadium as well with my nephews. (First time I had been to the stadium actually.)

The Dallas Opera made a few major mistakes. 1) The show didn't start until 7:30 and was a 3.5 hour show. It was dang late for the kids when we got home. (late for me.) 2) The second act SUCKED. It was as slow as could possibly be. And it was late. We should have left after the first act. 3) You mentioned the loss of the subtitles. I've been to a few operas so at least I know that you have to read the synopses in the playbill before the show or you won't know what's going on. (It's okay to spoil the ending of an opera.) Most people who hadn't been to an Opera before wouldn't know that, and then they are stuck watching two goofy looking guys on stage obviously cracking some pretty funny joke -and they are left completely out of the loop. 

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