An Opera blooper…

Memory – It’s a Dreary November evening in 1965. I had performed my duty as Usherette at the local theatre/opera house, the jewel of our city, and had taken up station in the dark vestibule of the Lower Orchestra entrance.  There was a great close view,of the stage set, the orchestra in the pit and the singers, to be had from there. I reveled in the fact that not only was I making money for my upcoming European Adventure, but I loved the opera “Faust”. ( My mother, a keen lover of opera, a wonderful clear soprano, had for the most of my child-hood gone about singing “Ah, je ris… (Marguerite’s Jewel Song)” whenever she was sliding around with felt pads attached to her stocking feet and polishing the wood floors in our apartment in Hungary.  This was also her signature tune summoned up by her whenever she was annoyed with any of us in the family, and by which she indicated she could care less for our feelings about her incessant admonishments, corrections and demands. She played her recording of Faust often, but never shared the details of the story, which we had to ferret out ourselves by listening to the variations in the music, and by sneaking looks at the libretto folded inside the record cover jacket.) But, I digress…

Act l – Faust (a portly middle-aged man, who I then considered rather unattractive and uninteresting) is in his study, bemoaning his life and the failure of Science and Faith, and asks for infernal guidance and aid. He does this with okay acting, in a marvellous tenor voice. Bingo -bango…enters the Devil singing in a melodious insidious baritone ( I perked up! He is really an attractive man – tall, dark and handsome, with really fine legs, altogether yummy!) He goes through his temptation  routine, like a really oily, yet attractive, used-car salesman, and conjures up a vision of Marguerite spinning wool inside her chamber.

This vision appears. We, the audience, know it is supposed to be an imaginary scene, because  mauvish lights go on at stage right and reveal, muted by a scrim, a tall tower-like structure with stairs leading up the front to an open doorway. There, beavering away in a faded fashion, is an attractive darkish-haired young woman, in simple costume, the heroine seated at her spinning-wheel. ( She was an operatic “hottie”, a nice foil for Faust, who seems to be experiencing Mid-Life Crisis)

Suddenly, while Mephistopheles and Faust are doing their melodic negotiations, the tall tower falls down toward the front of the stage, puffs up the scrim, and leaves Marguerite at the top of the stairs exposed to the full glare of stage reality. Oops! Startled, out of character, she stops spinning and looks toward the audience with a kind of “Now what..”look on her face. The tower just misses flattening Faust, who carries on singing, as does Mephistopheles, while the maroon front curtain slowly closes.  The orchestra doesn’t miss a beat, but it soon becomes obvious that the two male singers are trying to hear the accompaniment and, muffled, are slightly out of rhythm with it.

Manfully and professionally, the musicians and singers carry on for the rest of the act (a longish time).  Unseen by all of us out front, the property guys and techs add to the musical atmosphere with noises they make as they scurry around behind the closed curtain to remove the fallen set panel.

Act l ends; the house lights remain dark; the orchestra segues into the  instrumental intermezzo before the next act, leaving those of us in the audience to sort out how we feel about all this.  Audiences at opera here in Canada at that time were very proper and polite. No loud guffaws, or catcalling. No excesses of enthusiasm, either. (We are very sedate people!)

Being just past my teens, at the time, I have less self-control and burst into a fit of giggling which I try to muffle and not being successful with this, have to push my way out to the lobby through the Lower Orchestra entrance door.

Later, at home, I am recounting this to Mother with great glee. Her indignant reaction was to say somewhat irritably, “Well, what do you expect? People here cannot put on a production to equal those back home!” She failed to see the humour in this unexpected happening.

Today, this memory reminds me not to take too much, too seriously, and  that I have personally made some doozers of bloopers during the performance of many tasks in my various “jobs”. Flaws sometimes add great interest.

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