I went to the opera yesterday. In particular, my wife and I had the opportunity to go to the Central City Opera House for a production of Verdi's La Traviata. As is almost always the case in my life, we were able to go to the opera because of the generosity of a wealthy benefactor who gave us the tickets. It proved to be a most interesting day and I would like to share some of the highlights with you here today.
The only thing I knew about La Traviata prior to yesterday was that it was a popular opera composed by Verdi. Other than that I had no idea what it was about. So as not to be completely lost my wife agreed to use her PED (personal electronic device) to gather information about the opera and to read it to me while we were driving up into the mountains. By the time we arrived we had some idea about the storyline and we were able to follow along without getting hopelessly confused. The opera was set in Paris and performed in Italian. I found that confusing. I understand why it was performed in Italian since Verdi was Italian but why it was set in Paris made no sense to me. It seemed to me that it would have been far more reasonable to set the opera in Rome but I rolled with the punches and suspended my disbelief that a bunch of Frogs would be running around 19th century Paris singing in Italian.
Central City was once known as the "richest square mile on earth." During the late 19th century it produced more gold than any place on earth. I have a special affinity for Central City because the great majority of the original gold miners were from Wales. They came to Colorado hoping to make a life for themselves and perhaps even strike it rich. As the hearty Welsh miners went about their work digging holes and extracting the yellow metal from the earth, they longed for the days when they were treated to the classic Welsh operas. Arias about slaying red dragons and conquering the Scots and the Irish filled their minds and occasionally erupted from their dust-caked lips as they labored in the mines. One day a group of them decided to band together and use some of their wealth to build an opera house. The Central City Opera House is the result of that decision. It is a beautiful old building and, in my humble opinion, the best place to see an opera. We sat in the third row of the small building, just a couple of feet from the cramped stage, and were treated to an afternoon performance of vocal music of the most outstanding quality.
We drove up a couple of hours prior to the matinee performance to enjoy a leisurely lunch together. As we strolled about town something was immediately and painfully obvious. Colorado had decriminalized gambling in three mountain towns a couple of decades ago in the hope that doing so would revitalize those towns and keep them from becoming just more ghost towns in Colorado's high country. The initial response was overwhelming as people from all over the country came to Colorado to gamble. The revenues produced by the gambling profits were used to build lots of shiny new government buildings, all of which stand in stark contrast to the ancient buildings of the old city. Over the years, as more governments throughout the Socialist Democracy of Amerika made the decision to increase revenues by decriminalizing gambling, fewer people made the trip to Central City and its sister-city Blackhawk. As we wandered around yesterday I noticed that probably about half of the old buildings were either for sale or vacant. If the original intention behind the change of the gambling law was to revitalize the town, I would say it has been a colossal failure. Government never gets things right.
After lunch we walked over to the opera hall entrance. We had to wait a couple of minutes prior to entering so we found a shady spot and sat down on a rock wall. Shortly after sitting down a woman wearing an extremely short bright red dress and sporting high heels that looked like small ladders entered the courtyard. I could not help but notice her. My wife noticed her as well and whispered to me, "that is a man." No, I thought incredulously, that can't be a man. She was staggering about, desperately trying to not fall off her shoes. Then she disappeared around the corner. I considered my wife's opinion that we had just witnessed a pervert in action and made a mental note to try and make eye contact with the lady as we entered the building. Shortly thereafter we were walking up the front steps and the "lady" appeared. She did not make eye contact but the unshaven face betrayed her gender. Being Welsh I am accustomed to being around bearded women but this was no bearded woman. This was a bearded man dressing up as a woman. I only had one thought at that moment. Please, please, please, do not have the seat next to me!
Immediately after the "woman" passed us by and while we were waiting for the lady at the front door to take our tickets a female midget walked up. She forced herself in front of us and demanded the ticket lady answer a question she posed. As we gazed down upon her she forcefully queried the ticket lady in the most un-munchkin-like way. She wanted to know if this was the same opera house she had been to previously that had forced her to walk up several flights of high-stepped stairs just to get to her seat. She desperately wanted to be able to complain that the Amerikans with Disabilities Act applied to her and she was going to sue the Central City Opera for failure to provide her proper access. The ticket lady assured her that there were no flights of stairs and that the only way into the building was by walking up the five steps we were currently standing on. Even the midget could do that so she turned on her tiny little heels and stomped off, no doubt coming to grips with the fact she would not win the litigation lottery on that day.
We entered the building and took our seats in the third row. The building quickly filled up. As we looked around we both noticed something at the same time. We were the youngest people in the entire opera house. The average age of the patrons had to be around 70 years old. Unlike the midget, who was able to walk away without falling over, most of these folks were tottering around like a bunch of drunks. The ravages of age make it difficult for seniors to walk around on uneven floors in the dark. One kindly fellow almost broke my wife's foot when he stomped on it while passing. He quickly apologized. Despite their infirmities everyone got to his seat without falling over and, as far as I know, no lawsuits were filed.
La Traviata is a wretched tale about a prostitute and the French aristocracy that have nothing better to do than get drunk and have sex with prostitutes. The three main characters are a bunch of sniveling wimps who spend most of their time crying about how hard their lives are and how much they love one another. Love quickly turns to hate however as the main couple spends most of their time either fighting or professing their undying love for each other. It was impossible to form any emotional connection with any of the characters and when the heroine dies in the final scene I thought that she deserved to die an early and painful death. Whether Verdi meant to mock the French aristocracy or whether he meant to portray them accurately I will never know. What I do know is the story is insipid and meaningless.
That having been said, the music and the singing were powerful. My wife and I just sat back and allowed our ears to be filled with some of the most glorious and inspirational music you will ever hear. Being in Italian I could pick up a word here and there but it was not enough to ruin the vocalizations that I was witnessing. The ensemble pieces were rousing and one duet between the female protagonist and the second male singer was fantastic. For several hours yesterday the amazing sound of extremely talented and highly disciplined voices filled the tiny confines of the Central City Opera House. It was a joy to experience and I wish you had all been there to share it with us.