Who Cares if the Fat Lady Sings?

Having been labelled an uncultured drunken Aussie bird, I decided to try to boost my image by going to the opera. Yes, that’s right, opera.

Now, I have to confess that I hate all things involving people standing on a stage belting out tunes at the top of their lungs. I think it stems from my parents’ love of musicals, particularly (cringe) Gilbert and Sullivan. They would insist on dragging my brother and I along to these shows and forcing us to sit through endless productions. HMS Pinafore was the worst, as it would mean my father would spend the following days strolling around the house with a newspaper hat on his head, singing “I am the very model of a modern major general” in his best ‘modern major general’ voice. (I obviously use the word ‘singing’ in its broadest terms, especially as he would do all the parts).

I realise that The Mikado isn’t quite the same thing as La Bohème, but you know what I mean. This dislike for all things involving people on stage singing loudly was compounded by my brother’s summary that opera is nothing more than “fat bints warbling in some dago language”. Not very PC, but arguably accurate.

So, there I was, sitting in the Coliseum trying to ignore the urge to go to the pub instead, thumbing through the programme in a desperate attempt to come to grips with the story before the singing started.

The English National Opera’s Magic Flute was described in Time Out as “Mozart’s touching, funny, noble panto-allegory in Nicholas Hytner’s tried and tested family favourite production” so I thought “how bad can it be?”

I’ll tell you how bad – try a bunch of people singing as loudly and as dramatically as is humanly possible in … English.

Now, I’m no expert, but I would have thought that something written by a German, in German, should be sung in bloody German! Apparently it is sung in English to make it easier to understand which is totally untrue because the straining to make out the words detracts from the following of the storyline.

This is what I managed to work out : Tamino (hero, handsome prince etc) is on a quest to rescue the beautiful princess Pamina, daughter of wicked Queen of the Night (witch, not Whitney Houston) from the evil clutches of Sarastro – ‘the gentle high priest’. Along the way he becomes mates with the Queen’s bird catcher Papageno (as you do) who immediately breaks into several rousing choruses of “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” which loosely translated means “Oh, catching birds, that is my trade”. Tamino tries to escape from a giant snake, gets knocked out, misses Queen’s ladies-in-waiting who kill the snake, sing their own praises and then check him out. They disappear, Papageno appears and sees dead snake, Tamino lies about having killed the snake which is swiftly followed by the ladies reappearing and putting a padlock on his mouth (must find out how to do that …) they show him a miniature of Pamina, he gets horny and vows to save her, Queen appears, reinforces story and promises daughter, ladies reappear, take off padlock and give him a set of chimes and a golden flute – just what you need to save a princess – and wish him luck…. and so the story continued for what seemed like an eternity.

Needless to say, I left during half time (or intermission, as it’s called in the theatre) went straight to the pub and toasted the fact that I remained loyal to my Aussie roots. Cheers!