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Night at the Opera

September 4, 2008 | 4 Comments

Dear Garrison,
I attended Aida at the Seattle Opera this past week and once again during the grand procession I could hear your voice in my head singing, "No we cannot stop, stop at the Burger King. We will have some lunch at a nice restaurant that we know..." Everyone around me wonders why I am laughing during this very solemn part of the opera.

Do you sing along when you hear Aida? "Please stop kicking her or I will stop this car. I will stop this car and we'll turn right around and go home..."

Laura S.

I finally got to see "Aida" at the Met last season and no, Laura, I did not think of the Car Trip version that I did long ago on PHC, there was just so much going on on stage—a platoon of Egyptian soldiers marching in, a bunch of manacled slaves cringing and limping, and three horses—all of which we the audience were terribly grateful for, since it is not actually a great opera. Grand, but not great. My wife has commented on this phenomenon at opera performances, that the moment an animal or a small child walks onstage, the audience immediately perks up, you can feel the thrum of excitement in the crowd. Opera is show business and show business is a primitive art. I wrote the Car Trip song because that melody is so easy to sing and easy to put words to. You could do this yourself. You could do it while driving, simply invent new lyrics. I hope the Seattle production had a horse or two in it.


I had a similar experience this spring when I was in Prague. The Czech Philharmonic was performing an all Dvorak program. For this former farm girl from western Minnesota who never heard classical music until she attended the University of Minnesota, it was pure bliss. Until the New World Symphony, where I kept hearing your voice in my head singing "Strong and pure, cow manure. I know where I am. I am home again." It took a glass or two of absinthe to clear that voice out after the concert.

I have similar problems trying to remember the real lyrics when funnier ones have been "overlayed" on the same tune (e.g. Do You Remember Dear Sweet Ingeborg? instead of Betsy of Pike etc.). Will your creative muse cause you to rewrite a ballad possibly in honor of Alaska's pitbull Governor-now potentially President-in-Waiting????
Jack Richards
Listener Since I Was A Midwesterner in 1975

Aida - grand but not great, as GK puts it. I once had the pleasure of sleeping through most of it on a warm summer's night at the Caracalla baths in Rome. Great location, balmy night air, good background music, with the excitement raised by passing ambulances whose Doppler effect created the peculiar sensation of the world being in stereo, their sound passing from left to right, around the corner, and on out behind the venue. The grandness was in the scale of the staging - six white stallions being an abiding memory of the music - but most of the locals started leaving before the fourth quarter. By the way, the climax of the William Tell Overture is forever ruined, for me, by the words "Fiat fight running costs..." in memory of a truck commercial from the 70s whose catchy lyrics forever captured that piece of music. Once corrupted, forever tarnished. Memories... every passing ambulance conjures up the grand march from Aida.

Every mezzo-soprano risks substituting, "Do not poke it in too far..." for "Una voce poco fa." Opera is Grand? In the '80's, I auditioned for Seattle's Ring cycle in Carnegie Hall. The intendant rushed down, exuding praise. "So," he asked, "how do you feel about heights?" Turns out they were looking for someone to ride a flying horse while singing Hoijo-toho. I demanded the top horse so no other Valkyrie could drop a spear on me. It was tremendous fun. "Das Barbecue" was the production nickname because of the 180K btu's per minute of propane burned in the "Immolation Scene." Opera: it's grand if no one bleeds from an inappropriate orafice, and when everything's really cooking, both the afficiando and the novice relish the results.

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