Five-word review by a lady near me at the Opera: “Whole lotta testosterone up there.”

The opera was great. The music was moving and powerful and haunting, and I intend to listen to my “highlights” cd the Kentucky Opera sent before the season opened.

Modern music isn’t really my thang: I like toons. You know, arias that go, like, “Pom pom POM, tiddle-diddly UM….” Maybe after I listen to the highlights a few times, I’ll be able to go, like, “That mouse is DEAD, Lenny!” and call it a song.

When I got home, my husband said he had just read that opera began as declamation, and that arias and so on were popular additions that purists felt corrupted the true art. So I guess he told me.

Still, as I said, the music and the performances were just dynamite. Rod Nelman’s George could knock you out of your seat, his voice was so strong and beautiful. I thought he did the best acting, too, though acting isn’t really something I expect in an opera. As long as they don’t actually laugh during the sad bits or just stand there when they’re supposed to be frantic with emotion, I’ll put up with it. There was a lot of good acting in this one, though (Mom thought the acting overshadowed the music, as a matter of fact), and Nelman was the best singing and the best acting, I thought.

That might be unfair to Michael Hendrick, who was under the weather. He coughed a few times during the performance, and his voice sounded a little strained, even to my untutored ears, sometimes. Considering how wonderful he was yesterday, it might be lucky for me that he wasn’t in top condition, or I would have boo-hooed out loud. The bit in the first scene, where he sings about how much he liked the mouse he killed, though he didn’t want to, brought tears to my eyes. Not because I knew it was foreshadowing, but because the music and his performance of it drew a complex of feelings out of me, a mixture of tenderness toward little vulnerable things, awareness of the fragility of life, the finality of death, the emptiness of loss and more.

I really really liked John Stephens as Candy. I believed every move he made and every note he sang and every word he spoke. He took his curtain call with the REAL dog that got taken out and “shot” at the end of Act I, which was good, because I think he would have had everybody in the audience going home with a nagging feeling that he really had lost his dog.

Deborah Selig did a beautiful job singing Curley’s Wife–yeah, that’s right, the poor bee-atch doesn’t even get a name. Everybody else was really really good, but those four were so good, even I could appreciate them.

It might be because I’d just come from church, but the set of the opening and closing scenes featured three telephone poles that looked very thematic to me. It’s possible that someone somewhere decided that Lennie was an innocent who died (oops! did I give away the ending? but it’s an OPERA! you KNOW that SOMEBODY is going to die!) … I lost my place … Oh, yes, it’s possible that someone somewhere decided that Lennie was an innocent who died for the sins of others, and possibly that Curley’s poor nameless Wife represented the Sins of the World. You know the idea: Woman=Eve=Temptress=Sin. The crosses–I mean the telephone poles put that into my head, and I daresay I’m wrong. If anything was crucified, it was the dream of a place to settle down–a place of beauty and order, and that dream was killed by the disorder and lack of self-control of Lennie AND Little Miss Nameless.

Anyway, this really is a testosterone-laden show, like it or not, with only one female in the cast, and she’s just a Plot Device. The relationship between Curley and his wife is non-existent. The only connection she makes with anybody in the whole show is when she and Lennie share a dream-swap, she singing about going to Hollywood and being a star and he singing about the farm he and George and Candy are going to buy, and neither one is listening to the other one. They have a moment of connection, though, over their shared longing for a better life, different as their ideas of a better life are.

The values in this are interesting, too. Ms. Wife and the three rancheros (Lennie, George and Candy) are dreaming of possessions. She wants money and fame and a fur and a car, they want land and a house and livestock–something to call their own. But none of them are really looking for things. What she really wants is for someone to pay attention to her, and what they really want is security and independence. They all say they want belongings, but what they want is Belonging. When Lennie is gone, George and Candy could easily get the farm, but George says it was between him and Lennie. It was never really about the farm as a thing, it was about the farm as a shared dream. Poor old Candy was just let in on it because he had enough cash to make it happen.

And, speaking of pity, let’s hear it for Curley’s Dead Wife, who got cursed to hell “for what you took from us”. Hello? Dead woman on the floor? Who took what from whom?

Well, it’s a sad old world, to be sure, and we should all thank Mr. Floyd for making something so beautiful from events so insignificant in global terms but so terrible in personal ones.

I do have one genuine complaint, though: In the first and last scenes, the stage was swarming with men bearing flashlights, which they shone (or shined) all over, including into the audience’s eyes. I had to take off my glasses and cover my eyes tightly or I would have gotten a sick headache. This is true. My mother had to tell me when the flashing lights were over so I could look again.

The next opera is in a couple of weeks: HANSEL AND GRETEL. Yay! Oh, and we have season tickets for next year, too, but I forget what they’re doing besides MADAMA BUTTERFLY. That’s the first opera I ever saw, and the first opera my youngest daughter ever saw. Talk about toons!

MA
writing prompt: What is your main character’s deepest desire? Is it contingent on anything, the way George and Lennie’s dream of a farm hinged on each other?

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