Sunday, April 20, 2008

Norma at the Philadelphia Academy of Music

Lucy, Michael, Devin, Mackenzie, & I (plus two others I didn't know) journeyed out to Philly for the 'bel canto' experience. This most definitely counts as an outing, but I'm lazy, so I'm just going to copy and paste most of the email I sent Brice:

Oh my goodness! It was absolutely fabulous - we had so much fun. First of all (and pretty damn important in my book) I looked absolutely amazing. People actually gasped; I love reminding them that I can look nice when I try. Nice heels, nice legs, empire cut LBD, nice hair, nice makeup, good pearls... June Cleaver, gtfo, 'cause I am going to tear that place up. That made it an automatic +3.

We drove down to Philly, and I got to drive Michael and Devin, so lots of good conversations there. Traffic more or less sucked after we hit 76 East, and I almost rear-ended some crazy New Jersey driver about 10 times, but I didn't start cursing! (Mostly so that Michael and Devin wouldn't feel uncomfortable...) We found the opera house without a problem, parked, and got our tickets at around 6:50.

Then we picnicked on the steps outside the theatre for half an hour! So wonderful - Michael in his suit, Devin in his tux, Lucy wearing a beautiful salmon something (don't ask me what it was, I have no idea...), Mackenzie, her boyfriend, and some other girl I didn't know all dressed to the nines. We got so many "Ah, remember when we were young?" and "Oh, good idea!" looks. Everyone seemed appreciative of a bunch of kids eating Brie, baguettes, finger-fruits, Asiago Foccacia, dark chocolate, and non-alcoholic (well, they wouldn't have known that) wine-stuffs. We had quite a spread... we ended up not even touching the granny smith apples, cheddar cheese, sage derby cheese, crackers, and half a loaf of some Portuguese bread that I can't pronounce or spell, plus we had leftovers, so we decided to picnic again when the opera ended.

First of all, let me just say the theatre was beautiful. I've been in some very, very nice establishments, and this one - aside from the ostentatious carpet - really held its own. They comped us with a free seat upgrade, so we watched from the first balcony instead of the amphitheater (and let me tell you, it was an amazing view!). The orchestra opened us up with some decorative playing - it's bel canto, so they played more of the accents than driving the tune - and they set the stage.

The Druids in Gaul meet the first Roman fleet of conquerors, and their general, Pollione, falls in love with the high priestess (and namesake) Norma. She's supposed to remain a virgin, so they hide their love and children for several years. But all the while the Druids want to know when their God will let them go to war, and Norma keeps telling them they must wait. She doesn't want Pollione slain, jah?

Her father, the chief of the tribe, had a bass aria so amazing it gave me goosebumps. Imagine a stage full of lusty Romans replaced by a singing company of war-hungry Druids: "Guerra! Guerra! Anima Romana!" with a low, cutting voice over singing a long solo about Norma and keeping the peace. I shivered.

Anyways, trouble comes when Norma cuts the sacred mistletoe and advocates peace again. Their God - presumably - doesn't want peace, and what follows is punishment for Norma's infidelity. Pollione confesses that he is in love with Adalgisa, an altar girl, and that he will abandon Norma and their children to take Adalgisa back to Rome with him. She agrees, and they plan to run away. Problem: no one knows that Norma and Pollione have been lovers (except for one woman; the equivalent of a nurse or nanny), so when Adalgisa approaches Norma to confess her own infidelity to the God and begs permission to go to Rome, the shit hits the fan. They have a beautiful duet, complete with highlights from the orchestra's woodwinds and hits from the bass-end; it was very dynamic. Norma realizes that Adalgisa is going through the same thing she is, so she grants her permission, only to find out that it's Pollione being unfaithful. Adalgisa swears she will never be with Pollione now that she knows what kind of man he is, and he's due to sail in the morning, buit... Well, what happens when you piss off a Druid priestess?


We come back, and Norma is giving us one of the show's best numbers: an introspective look at her children. And she's holding a dagger. She creeps close, ready to kill them to punish Pollione, spare them slave-status in Rome, and save them from her own tribe, which will undoubtedly ostracize them or worse when they find out Norma has been unchaste with a Roman, of all things. She keeps trying, but ultimately fails, and asks Adalgisa to go and plead with Pollione to take her (Norma) with him to Rome as a wife.

All this time the Gurra! Guerra! men are building up a stock of weapons. They're almost at the breaking point, and it looks like war is going to break out in the following weeks when Pollione's replacement comes, whether the God likes it or not.

Adalgisa fails to convince Pollione, and Norma thinks that she has betrayed her to run away with Pollione herself. In a pissy, womany fury, Norma calls the moon into a full eclipse of the sun and beats the war-gong or war-shield, or whatever our minimalist libretto was calling it at that point. The Druids assemble for war - all of them are very enthusiastic about it, and Norma even draws SomeExcaliburFoilHere to show the God's support - but then someone discovers Pollione in the novice's chambers (they are also supposed to be chaste). They tie him to what I officially dubbed "the guillotine rock," a bloody stone clearly designed for sacrifices which we have been skirting and avoiding all through the show, and prepare to kill him.

Norma says she's got to be the one to do the deed, and demands time alone with him to "discover" his lover. She pleads with him, asking him to never see Adalgisa again, and to let her take the holy "vows" (our libretto was disgustingly ethnocentric, I've got to say..). If he will do that, she'll spare him. He won't, and he's disgusted when he hears that she almost killed their children. What he's really afraid of, though, is Norma's threat to kill Adalgisa with him if he doesn't comply. He breaks loose of his bonds before he gets a chance to answer, and lunges for Norma. She calls the Druid army back again, of course, and they tie him up once more.

Norma puts on a big production of telling them that the foul traitor amongst them must be killed along with Pollioe, and then, to everyone's surprise, confesses that she, herself, is the traitor. She pleads with her father to raise her children - another shiver-worthy aria - and then, allegedly back in love, the two hurl themselves onto their funeral pyre and die.

The End.

We did a bit of a talk-back in the lobby amongst ourselves for 10 or 15 minutes after the show, mostly discussing anachronism and what little we all knew about bel canto, but then we moved into the parking garage for a reverse-tail gate party (in which you eat a lovely, continental picnic off the hood of your car) and cracked open another bottle of non-alcoholic "juice". Which was really, really good. Everyone enjoyed it, and when we wouldn't convince Michael to drink the last 1/3 of it, Lucy chugged it right from the bottle. Amazing! Michael and Devin were flabbergasted, to say the least.

Then, you know, the boring stuff: navigate way through Philly, find 676 > 76 > turnpike, and go home.