I am in Sofia and last night I went to the opera. The taxi driver took me to a side door: I don’t think she knew where the front door was. Anyway, I went in the door she insisted was the entrance and came to an underground restaurant which was clearly not the box office. Actually, nothing about the building looked remotely like an opera house and I was sure I was in the wrong place until I’d walked round the block, which was not as easy as it sounds, and found the main entrance, a modest in size but imposing facade.
I think I got the last seat, an aisle seat in the front stalls. It only cost me 50 of whatever it is they use around here for money. I thought that was cheap, and the dinner I had before the performance and the two cds I bought, one of Purcell’s King Arthur and the other of Von Karajan’s Der Rosenkavalier which I’ve been dying to find to replace the vinyl set I so stupidly threw away when I left England. Yes, I thought it was a cheap night out until I checked the exchange rate this morning. Its two zloty to the whatever, not the other way round as I had been calculating. Still, nothing was unduly expensive though I am feeling slightly less smug about it.
The Sofia opera-going-public is unlike any other I have seen. They seem to be there for the opera. Certainly, no effort is made to doll up, at least, I think it isn’t. And every face is unique, a character. Great beauties, striking men, none of them. No, really. None. But faces, some quite remarkable in a brutish sort of way. To give you an idea. There was one man in a white suit with shoes to match, (may be he had made an effort), with two heavily made up birds of a certain age in leather and with matching hair colour either side of him, sitting in front of me. Never have I seen shoulders hang as his did. He could have worn a jacket half the size and still made it look too big. Who on earth had sold it to him?
Despite the opening bars from the orchestra, horribly out of tune and not together brass, the performance was memorable, not only because I thought I’d only paid a fraction of what I would have paid in Warsaw, but because the singing was sometimes really good. Oh, I forgot to say, Verdi’s Don Carlo. Though the acting was invariably hammy (the chorus worst of all), and King Philip had a most irritating habit of rolling his eyes when he wanted to look particularly evil, (I think his costume led him to believe he was playing Ivan the Terrible or Boris), he sang magnificently and had enormous presence, except when he did the thing with his eyes. “O don fatale” was as good as I have ever heard it. Posa`s death scene was beautifully sung. In fact, everyone sang their arias very well except for Rodrigo. A great tenor voice in an awful body and probably not much brain. I won’t say more.
Despite the weakness of the ensemble playing, the conductor was extremely sensitive and was always with the singers. Most unusually, uniquely given the conditions since he is obviously a fine musician, he had an excellent rapport with the orchestra and really seemed to like them. He must have been hearing them through his imagination.
However, the most memorable event of the evening was the scuffle that broke out during the interval (yes, they only had one interval which shows it can be done). At first, I though a young man was making a political statement. But no, he then physically attacked a middle aged man, who seemed to be taking it rather lightly. The young man tried to grapple the older man’s mobile phone from him. Another man, middle aged, dived in to help the younger. Others watched. I have no idea what it was about but later I saw the two parties apart and phoning madly.
My neighbours in the over-iced theatre, two women, were inclined to chat but applauded like crazy when given the chance.
All in all, an evening not to have been missed.
PS. Since I am in Sofia this week, no blog till next Monday.