Wednesday, December 21: Tonight I go with my colleagues, Christian, Stephanie and Spencer, to see the opera Carmen at the Royal Opera House in Muscat. It’s an unusual thing that we all happen to be Americans. Usually, we have a mixture of multiple ethnicities whatever we do in Oman. We leave Nizwa at 5:00, which should be plenty of time to get to the 8:00 performance. Christian drives us in his brand new Volkswagen Jetta and on the way we rock out in the car to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.”
Billy Jean is not my lover
She’s just a girl who
says that I am the one
But the kid is not my son…
We need to make a stop at Muscat City Center because Stephanie wants to exchange a comforter she bought and buy a new one. While she looks for a new one, Christian, Spencer and I look around for things with which to decorate our flats, especially Christian, who just got an amazing new flat that he’s keen to deck out. After we finish our browsing and shopping, we run to the food court and buy some food to eat in the car…McDonald’s and Subway are our fast-food chains of choice. By the time we finally get on the road and head toward the opera house, it is 7:35! Christian is driving like a maniac and we’re cheering him on, because we have heard if you don’t arrive exactly on time, they will close the doors. They don’t allow latecomers in.
We make it with just five minutes to spare and find our tickets on Level 3, Row C. I’m in seat 38. Sad to say, we find that our 13 Omani rial seats are horrible! We are on the very top tier on the far right of the opera house and if we sit straight back in our seats, we can only see the left quarter of the stage. If we want to see 3/4 of the stage, we must lean forward over the seats of the people in front of us, and if we want to see the ENTIRE stage, we must practically get up out of our seats and dangle precariously over their heads. Well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Whenever we do lean forward, which is almost constantly, we are right in the path of a continuous cold stream of air from the air conditioning. We freeze throughout the entire four-hour performance. Well, four hours total, including three 25-minute intermissions.
The great thing is that there are little video screens on the seat backs in front of us where we can follow the opera in any language we choose. Of course I choose English as my French is pathetic. It’s great to be able to understand all the words in the opera.
The Royal Opera House is Oman’s classy venue for musical arts and culture. It was officially opened on October 12th, 2011, with a production of the opera Turandot, conducted by Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. The opera house is located in Shati Al-Qurm in Muscat. Built on the royal orders of Sultan Qaboos, the Royal Opera House reflects contemporary Omani architecture, and can accommodate 1,100 people. From the opera house website, “the vision of the Opera House is to serve as a centre of excellence in global cultural engagement. We strive to enrich lives through diverse artistic, cultural, and educational programs.” (Royal Opera House Muscat)
Carmen is the French comic opera by Georges Bizet. The opera premiered at the Opera-Comique of Paris on 3 March 1875, but its opening run was denounced by the majority of critics. The story, revolving around the fiery-tempered gypsy named Carmen, is set in Seville, Spain around 1820. Flirtatious and free with her love, she woos the inexperienced soldier Don José, who falls so madly in love with her that he rejects the lover his mother picks for him, rebels against his superior, and joins a gang of smugglers. When Carmen betrays him for the bullfighter Escamillo, he stabs and kills her in a fit of passionate desperation.
The director and Oscar-winning set and costume designer is Gianni Quaranta. He won an Oscar for the set design of the 1986 film, Room With a View. He did an amazing job with the sets in the four acts, especially the first act which has a real fountain in a village square set in romantic Seville. In the scene the villagers and Carmen herself actually wade in the fountain and splash water on each other. The scene in the third act, where the gang of smugglers is operating under cover of nightfall, is dark and depressing, with its monstrous rock formations and dreary colors. This is my least favorite scene, but the rest are phenomenal.
The conductor, Patrick Fournillier, is a boisterous and lively performer himself, gesturing wildly and even jumping about as he conducts the orchestra.
Julia Gertseva from Leningrad, a mezzo-soprano, is lovely as the tempestuous red-headed Carmen. I love Carmen’s voice and her flowing flamenco dresses in their feisty reds, purples and pinks. One of them in purples and reds is so beautiful I find myself lusting after it, trying to think of where on earth I can find something like it for myself.
I really don’t remember if I’ve even seen an opera before, and so it’s amazing to see this performance and to recognize tunes that I’ve heard over the years in different guises. For instance, I’ve heard the rich and fluid “Habanera” before, but I never knew it came from Carmen, nor did I know what the words meant. Having the little translation screen in front of me helps me to follow the story and to appreciate the meaning of the songs, and thus the deeper messages throughout the opera. I love the words of this song which talk about the elusiveness of love. No matter how much you seek it, it may never come and when it comes, sometimes you are not prepared for it, or ready to accept it.
Some of the words from “Habanera” are below:
Love is a rebellious bird
that nobody can tame,
and you call him quite in vain
if it suits him not to come.
All around you, swift, so swift,
it comes, it goes, and then returns …
you think you hold it fast, it flees
you think you’re free, it holds you fast.
This song captures the elusiveness of love, as well as the uncontrollable nature of the emotion. We call all relate, in our own experiences, to this personification of love with its capricious whims and sometimes heartless nature.
Carmen is a complex character, passionate and flirtatious and tempestuous. As a gypsy woman she lives by her own code and belongs nowhere. She follows her heart wherever it leads her, which makes her fickle and destructive in the eyes of many. But I love how she embraces all that life throws at her. She’s strongly independent and throws herself, heart and soul, into whatever her passion is. These things I love about her.
Tenor Giordani Marcello has the role of Don José and baritone Nicholas Cavalier plays the bullfighter Escamillo. This “toreador” is so dashing, I can understand why Carmen falls for him over the pot-bellied Don José. I love the song he sings that starts out “Toreador…” The tune is in the overture as well, and all I can think of is the similar-tuned song “Neither a borrower nor a lender be….To thine own self be true….” which are Shakespeare’s words included in a song I heard in the distant past. It’s possible that song was even a commercial, but I can’t remember for the life of me. When I try to find this Toreador song later on YouTube, the song is different from the one the toreador Escamillo sings, so I don’t really know what it is called! All I know is that on the way home, Stephanie and I keep singing “Neither a borrower nor a lender be…”!
It’s a lovely performance and we enjoy it immensely, despite fighting off frostbite in our horrible seats. I really believe when designing an opera house, or any entertainment venue, each seat should be checked for sight-lines, so that every seat has a full view of the stage. People in the center seats told me they also had to lean forward to see over the balcony railing. Why would the architect put balcony rails right in the sight-lines?
Oh well, you always get what you pay for! I will be certain next time I go to the beautiful opera house to get a center seat and to pay MORE than 13 Omani Rials…:-)
The night ends in a royal way for me. After leaving our seats at the far reaches of the opera house and making a stop in the ladies’ room before our long drive back to Nizwa, we end up being some of the last people out. As I am taking pictures in the nearly-deserted lobby, a woman approaches and asks me, “Excuse me…Are you the Nizwa blogger?” I am taken aback! The woman introduces herself as June and tells me she teaches at a University in Sohar. She says “I LOVE your blog. I read it all the time and I tell everyone I know to read it!” I am so flattered by this!! I tell her she should contact me with her email address so we can keep in touch. I personally LOVE writing my blog and I’m always pleased to find someone who actually reads it! This really topped off my night at Muscat’s Royal Opera House!!