Friday, November 17, 2006

A Masked Ball!

I attended my first Albanian opera last night, a memorable experience to say the least! I love Opera. Getting ready to go to it, reading a libretto, listening to it on a a CD. All aspects are fascinating to me. Before an evening at the opera, I always read the appropriate chapters in my little collection of opera books, try to read the libretto if I have it, and anticipate the set design, the costumes, the staging. I tend to make it a big deal.

So when one of my friends suggested a group of us go to see Verdi's Masked Ball here in Tirana, I was quite ready for it. The tickets, for great seats, are 1,000 Lek, about 10 USD. Not a high price in most cities, but I think a little high for average Albanians. I expected to see some empty seats, but I was wrong and the opera house was full.

We took our seats (I think there were 8 of us), and waited with anticipation for the parting of the curtains. A nice added touch to the evening was the introduction to each act by a very pretty woman, who explained what was about to happen.

The Tirana Opera house is an interesting place. There is nothing ornate about it, no gold paint, no plush seats, and no boxes for VIP's. It's painted a weird sort of reddish-orange, and all-in-all it looks a little shabby. But I do think they are trying to do their best with what they have- probably a tragically low budget. I imagine the budget had something to do with the blast of icy cold air which filled the audience when the curtains opened. We quickly put our coats back on and wrapped ourselves up in our scarves.

Verdi's operas are loved for their dramatic grappling of big issues: church vs. state, parental love, resposibility vs. desire, politics, and so on. For some wierd reason, The Masked Ball is set in Boston, of all places, but any production that I've seen has never been set there, but rather in some non-specific European city. At one point in the opera the soldiers were waving American flags in the background and we caught ourselves giggling. It just seemed so odd.

But the most unforgettable scene in the opera took place in Act II. It takes place out in a field, in the evening, at a gypsy fortune teller's camp. The set was fabulous and very mysterious. As Ulrica, the fortune teller, appears on stage, she is suddenly surrounded by a thick mist. BUT WAIT. Mist? Aha-- dry ice you might think. But nooooo- not in Tirana. In Tirana the mist is actually some kind of burning toxic waste!!!! I kid you not. Suddenly the stage, the orchestra pit, the entire audience, was filled with toxic SMOKE. Perhaps someone thought this would lend an authentic air to the whole event. I don't know. I just know that as the audience gagged and tried in vain to stifle their coughs, our row of ladies quickly wrapped our entire faces with our pashminas (who knew how useful they would turn out to be!) and looked at each other with shocked expressions. It was truly bizarre.

A glass or two of good red wine between acts warmed us up and took away most of our fears. Of course in the next act we were all concerned when the royal guards came marching on stage carrying real torches, burning brightly. Luckily, no disaster ensued, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The last act is really the most beautiful part of the opera visually. It's a great masked ball, full of gorgeous costumes (apparently borrowed from Rome), and full blown choral singing. I was so impressed with the 3 curtain calls that the audience gave the performers, and the hearty applause which showed their honest appreciation for an evening of pleasure.


ITS said...

Hi Kim,

Seems like you survived to tell another great experience.

I have been to that opera house, and the reason that it looks like that was that it was build during the communism, hence the lack of gold, and luxury boxes. It was made to be utilitarian and egalitarian, like everything else at the time. There is only so much that Edi Rama can change with a bucket of paint.

I do believe that there is great talent in the classical music field in Tirana, and you should take advantage of the minimal prices to attend as many events as you can.


V-Grrrl said...

I haven't been to the opera since high school...

Ginnie said...

I am ashamed to say, Kim, that opera has not been part of my experience (maybe I should suggest it to Donica!) except for music I've heard that is always so rapturous for me. My mom had a record that we we would play from time to time when I was still at home (high school) and now I'll have to wrack my brain to remember who it was. I know it was a woman...Wagner...who transported me to another world.

So glad you had a nice experience as a fun outing with your friends!

Unknown said...

wow that sounds like it was amazing. I've said this since I was 22 that I've wanted to go to an Opera, but I still have not!!!

I guess your slingbox comes in handy too for news. I guess it was because of a mudslide which got more than usual amounts of mud into the water...

Yes we need to restock but we are fine... :)

CanadianSwiss said...

Wow. What a fabulous evening! I haven't been to an Opera, yet, but I'm sure will at some point.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim, this is Blendi from peshkupauje blog.
How do you feel about me translating this into alb and posting it at
my email is


Anonymous said...

SOunds incredible

Jessica Brogan said...

These are beautiful photos. Did you take them? I have not ever been really interested in the opera, but your writing has peaked my interest. it sounds wonderful!! and congratulations on the translation!