Travel Thursday Encore: Watching Opera With a First Timer

The place: Savonlinna, Finland

Olavinlinna is an old spooky castle, which kinda makes it perfect for opera. Some more than others, of course; MacBeth, or something by Wagner, but it works for Tosca as well, which I was seeing for about the hundredth time, but I was going with an old friend who’d never been to an opera in her life. Here’s all you need to know about her, as described by a magazine editor: When Giina had been designed and made, they saved the mold for very special occasions.
So I didn’t tell her anything about the plot, and since she knew English, she could read the subtitles. Of course I enjoyed the work as always, but also took pleasure in watching her enjoy it, especially considering she had no idea what was going to happen. She oohed and aahed a little, but there really wasn’t that much action taking place in the first act, just exposition, so she had a lot more emotion to go through. I wondered if she’d cry some toward the end, though knew better than to ask; she was a self-proclaimed “tough chick.”
There was a big enough intermission after the first act for us to leave our seats. When she didn’t say she was going to the concession stand, I knew what option was left, and too bad she’d worn such a tight dress. So I asked if she wanted anything, and she demurely replied for me to remember her “sweetie tooth.” I figured that could mean anything but beer in this place, although considering the microbrews in this part of the world, anything really was possible.
Thinking she was easy to please, at least when it came to desserts, I got in line and reckoned I’d just get her whatever I was having, though in the end it turned out not to be the same flavor. As I turned from the counter with my hands full of ice cream cones, a woman in a fur coat dumb enough to be in the exit line blocked my way and got some droplets of ice cream on her.
As I inspected the ice cream to make sure there was no fur on it, and really, who wore that in this weather, the relatively young-looking bitch whined, “Do you know how many animals had to be killed to make this coat?”
“Do you know how many assholes like you I’d have to kill to come up with one brain?” Hey, sometimes you gotta shoot from the hip.
“Making friends wherever you go,” Giina laughed, her timing perfect as usual, as was her aim, relieving me of the chocolate ice cream. The “friend” in question checked out the blonde–who was smiling placidly–knew she was done before the fight started, and turned away.
As we went over to look at the lake and landscape, she told me how she was researching the possibility that Sibelius, and other Scandinavian composers, wrote somber pieces of the low register and slow tempo because of the severity of the winter landscape, while in places like Italy, Spain, and Greece, the music is mostly high register and much faster tempi. I told her she could start a whole new field, which I called Musical Geography. Then she laughed and said, “Imagine if my boss could hear me now!” Or even that magazine guy.
The lights blinked, making her wonder if the power was going out, but when I took her by the arm to lead her to their seats instead of acting like it was an emergency situation, she figured I knew something she didn’t and walked alongside.
The second act fired her up, which was not surprising, given all the action: she winced at the sounds of the hero being tortured, gave me a baleful look when the heroine agreed to sleep with the bad guy, even though everyone knew he had no intention of keeping his side of the bargain, and barely kept from shouting “Yes!” when the heroine killed said bad guy instead of letting him take her. I actually had to calm her down, do something to stop her nostrils from flaring as the second act came to a close. Too bad there wouldn’t be a long enough intermission to take her out for a walk or something else to make her burn off this excess energy. . . if indeed that’s what it was.
The very short third act was a roller coaster for her, from her tearful “He forgave her!” to a knowing snort at realizing the hero was really dead–with scorn at the heroine for not realizing it herself–to a heartfelt “Oh SHIT!”–such a cute accent–when Tosca threw herself into the river, so perfect I had to keep from laughing at the most dramatic moment of the entire opus.
“Wow, I’m sweating!” she remarked as we walked out. “That was gut wrenching! Now I know what you see in opera! What’s next?”


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