Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Anita Epstein-Rosen Explains Carmen for You

Anita, one of the docents, made me nuts because she was so abrasive, hypercritical, and stereotypically New York. I thought it would be fun to try to capture her attitude and temperament in writing.

Anita Epstein-Rosen Explains Carmen for You

So hello and welcome to the lecture on Carmen. My name is Anita Epstein-Rosen. So. Carmen. How many of you have never seen Carmen, the most popular opera in the world? Raise your hands. Okay, most of you have never seen it. This tells me that you're all philistines out here in the desert. What, you've never been to the Met? Why am I even asking you that? You're probably too lazy to drive to the Santa Fe Puebloplex and see the latest Bruce Willis, much less go to an opera. You at least know the Toreador Song, though, right? "Toreador, don't spit on the floor. Use the cuspidor. That's what it's for." You didn't sing that in the school yard? Oy.

So. Carmen by Georges Bizet. As the opera starts, we're in Spain at a cigarette factory. Georges, talk to Anita. What kind of composer would open an opera in a cigarette factory? I'm thinking something a little more upscale, Georges, a little more Midtown. Would it have killed you to set the first act in Bloomingdale's? Frankly, I can't see the customers having a knife fight over cigarettes. Georges, let's see some real conflict between these women, let's see a half-off sale on bath fashions, maybe a knife fight over wicker Kleenex caddies and some Ralph Lauren washcloths in plum. But cigarettes? Georges, those sounds you hear are your mother's sobs of shame.

So. Carmen. A soldier named Don Jose ignores Carmen at the factory, so she throws him a flower to show she's interested. Excuse me, but does anybody believe this? If she's interested in him, she should have invited him over for dinner, maybe some brisket and a nice kugel with a bottle of chilled Manieschevitz. But a flower? I'm not buying it. Don Jose tucks the flower away and meets Carmen later in a tavern with gypsies. Georges, I'm worried. First a cigarette factory and now a tavern? They couldn't meet at the Algonquin for a nice chablis with lovely people instead of a tavern filled with people who have never been near shampoo, deodorant, and toothbrushes in their lives? All right, so we'll accept the fact that Don Jose and Carmen are in love, but between you and me, he's not for her, she's not for him.

So they go into the mountains, and Carmen's friend Micaëla tells Don Jose to return to his dying mother, which, if you ask me, he should have done in the first act; he should have said, "Mom, I'm sorry. You taught me better than to pick up a slut-rag I met at a cigarette factory. Mom, to show you how sorry I am, I'm taking you to a matinee of Mama Mia and afterward we'll go to the Russian Tea Room for a nice glass of rosé and maybe some pound cake. Really, it's no bother." Up there in the mountains, Carmen starts flirting with Escamillo, a bullfighter in a suit of lights. Excuse me, Georges, but I'm not seeing sequins, reflective metallic thread, embroidery, slippers, and a beaver skin hat anytime soon in the summer line at Barney's.

So. Escamillo. Carmen accepts his invitation and goes to the bullfight in her peasant blouse, broomstick skirt, and lots of silver bangles, which, if she got them in Santa Fe, were really no bargain. But Don Jose is at the bullring, too, in spite of having just buried his mother and not even sitting shiva, because he's so in love with Carmen. Carmen tells Don Jose that she loves Escamillo and throws the ring he gave her at him. So he does what I wanted to do since the end of the first act and stabs her to death, and the other gypsies have to figure out how to get bloodstains out of a polyblend peasant blouse.

Any questions? No? Good! Enjoy the opera.

Carmen at the half-off sale at Bloomingdale's

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mrs. Aldersflügel's second husband

I finished up three weeks' of docent training at the Santa Fe Opera and was on information overload the whole time. We learned all about production design, costumes, wigs and makeup, props, scenery construction, and everything else associated with putting on an opera. The heads of the various production shops did the sessions on their specialties, and we learned about this season's six operas from the inimitable Oliver Prezant.

For some reason, no matter where I sat during docent training, the elderly Mrs.Aldersflügel always sat next to me and repeated or commented on everything the speaker said.

Prop master: Here are some of the props we'll be using in Carmen this season.

Mrs. Aldersflügel: Ja, props for Carmen. I haf zeen Carmen all over vorld. Many times. Oh, many, many times. [heaves a sigh for all good things past]

Prop master: One of the wonderful things we've fabricated is a trick dagger with a retractable blade and a bladder for fake blood.

Mrs. Aldersflügel: Jawohl, a knife! Like flick knife I used on mein second husband. Blood was real, though. [to me] Dey never found out who did it.Vat you tink about dot?

Me: [Scoot down the bench away from her. Accidentally bump hips with Anita the Pill, who is always spoiling for a fight. Scoot away a few inches so she won't hit me.]

Prop master: You must also be sure to point out the severed heads of Jokanaan from our various productions of Salome.

Mrs. Aldersflügel: Ach,Salome. Heads mit blood. Salome vass mein sister's name also. She did not decapitated her husband, but I had femur of mein second husband and clubbed brother-in-law's head mit it after dancing mit veils like Salome. Actual, I used towels. Veils vass being dry-cleaned mit brother-in-law's toupee. Vat you tink about dot?

Me: [The hell with this. I'm scooting way down the bench. End up next to the man who has seen every production of Carmen since 1915, who thinks I'm flirting with him.]

Mrs. Aldersflügel: You! Docent all the times taking notes! Vy you scooting avay so fastly?

Mrs. Aldersflügel considers her third husband.