Dave Barry in the Opera

November 10th, 2008

Dave Barry wrote a classic column about the opera in 1995. As one who thinks ballet is the second-most wonderful art form created by humanity, and I mean that seriously, I just don’t get opera. I’ve tried regular opera (the screeching Italian kind) and various other forms, to include rock operas, operettas, etc. More often than not, I leave early to avoid the embarrassment of sleeping in public. I just can’t take it.

Apparently Dave shares my inability to appreciate opera because, as he tells it, he had written an earlier column about opera that was less than kind. After receiving abuse from a number of deranged opera fans (is there any other kind?), he accepted an invitation to play the part of a corpse in an opera being staged in Eugene, Oregon. The opera was “Gianni Schicchi,” and I’m taking Dave’s word for it that such an opera exists. I’ve never heard of it. Samples from the column:

My advice to you, if you ever get invited to play the part of a corpse in an opera, is: Ask questions. …

Eugene Opera turned out to be a very professional outfit featuring baritones, sopranos, bassoons, tremors, mezzanines, etc. …

The plot of ”Gianni Schicchi” is that Buoso is dead, and a bunch of people sing very loudly about this in Italian for 45 minutes of opera time, which, for a normal human, works out to roughly a month. I spent most of this time lying still on the bed with my mouth open. This turns out to be very difficult. When you have to hold perfectly still in front of hundreds of people, you become a seething mass of primitive bodily needs. You develop overpowering urges to swallow, twitch, scratch, burp, emit vapors and — above all — lick your lips. ”YOU NEED TO LICK YOUR LIPS RIGHT NOW!” is the urgent message your brain repeatedly sends to your tongue. You find yourself abandoning all concerns about personal hygiene and praying that Puccini was thoughtful enough to include a part in ”Gianni Schicchi” where the singers decide, for whatever reason, to lick the corpse’s lips.

But this is not what happens. What happens is that the singers, while searching for Buoso’s will, shove the corpse off the bed, the result being that I had to hold perfectly still while upside-down, with my face smushed into a low footstool and my legs in the air, through several arias (”aria” is Italian for “song that will not end in your lifetime”). Fortunately, under my nightgown I was wearing tights, so the audience was never directly exposed to my butt, which could have triggered a potentially deadly stampede for the exits.

Except for me. I would have been recovering in the nearest bar long before Dave’s butt started the stampede.


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