Friday night at the opera (long post)

Friday night my guy and I went to the opera. Allow me to preface this post with several warnings. The first is that though I am a fan of operatic music, I’m not particularly savvy in actual opera terminology, story, or performances. The second is that I’m also not what one would consider “high class”. Finally, this is a LONG post.

A few months back, LivingSocial did a coupon for the Indianapolis Opera’s presentation of Faust. It was a decent deal–two tickets for around sixty dollars. Each time I’ve looked at going to see an opera in Indy, the ticket prices have been over forty-five dollars a person. I thought this was a bit high for something that wasn’t put on by Cirque du Soleil (this may be the geezer penny-pincher in me coming out). However, two for sixty was palatable. So I checked that the date would work, suggested it to the significant other, and then bought the tickets.

Curtain time was eight on Friday. Since I work an hour from home, my guy works locally, and it’s an hour and a half drive to the venue from the house, we decided to take the day off. Friday I got up at the ripe hour of ten, got in a few rounds of #wordmongering in between getting ready, and then we were off to the big city at three. We planned to stop in at Plainfield’s Metropolis shopping mall for dinner and shopping. (Thursday I’d learned that the second in my Randy’s Diner series had been accepted for publication and would be printed! There was gonna be some celebratory shoppin, yo!)

With the temperatures in the eighties, humidity high, and the knowledge that I’d be walking around for several hours, I struggled with what to wear. It had to be something comfortable yet dressy. This was, after all, the opera. I decided upon the dress I wore to my little brother’s Auburn University graduation last year. If it could handle the Alabama heat in May, I figured it would be fine for Indiana’s spring record temperatures.

There was one problem with this idea: the dress had a surplice bodice that was cut ridiculously low. I grabbed a light cropped sweater to put over the top but it was too heavy for the ride to Indy. This meant I gave the truck drivers on I-70 one hell of a show. I heartily believe if I’d been with a lady friend instead of a male, there’d have been heavy honking (see my previous post about why truck drivers honk). It also meant I was uncomfortable the whole dang evening, but my guy was smiling. I suppose giving him a nice view was the least I could do considering I was dragging him to see an opera.

We arrived at the mall unscathed at roughly four (it’s on west side of Indy and thus closer to us than the opera venue). We agreed it was a good idea to eat dinner then to beat the Friday rush. I asked to eat at the Stone Creek Dining Company. The restaurant looked a bit fancy yet had food I thought we might both enjoy.

After filling our bellies, we set off into the sunny evening to do our shopping. I’ll spare you the gory details here, suffice it to say I returned a pair of jeans I’d bought last month, didn’t pick up any new clothes gasp, and ended up coming away with fewer purchases than my guy. I was pleased with this turn of events!

We killed some time in Barnes and Noble where I lifted my “To Be Read” pile by two more books. There was still an hour and a half until curtain time when we left so we decided to “kill some time” Cold Stone Creamery. The highlight there, beyond the yummy ice cream, was the group of pensioners from New Zealand who caught us nomming through our chocolate covered waffle cones to ask us, “Is that good?” Duh? I wished we could have stuck around to find out how they enjoyed theirs but we were on a schedule.

With the help of our phone’s handy GPS, we started for the center of town and Butler University. Ten minutes into the drive, I realized we were going to be cutting it very close. I still had to get the tickets from the box office of a place we’d never been! With ten minutes to go, we pulled onto the Butler campus. Driving was slow going because the GPS had us traveling through “Fraternity Row” at nearly eight on a Friday evening in early May (it’s close to graduation for them and thus was packed with tipsy kids drinking on their front lawns).

At six until curtain, we pulled in the parking lot of their field house—not the venue. Next was the race to follow the fancy people to the correct building. As we came upon the venue—Clowes Memorial Hall, my guy declared that it looked like some sort of “military bunker”. Personally, I thought it looked a Sci-Fi prison.


The interior wasn’t as imposing as the exterior but the staff were a bit frazzled, “There’s one minute to go, head into gate two and an usher will help you find your seat.” I got news for you, buddy! If the house lights hadn’t come back on just after we’d stepped inside, we wouldn’t have found the correct seats. The usher who flashed her failing flashlight (or torch as the Brits seem to say. To me this is evocative of an angry pitchfork-wielding mob) at my ticket tried to tell me I was in Row M. I quickly caught that we had Row H seats, 106 and 107. There was no center aisle, so this meant walking in front of twenty people to get to our seats at the center of the theater.

At last! We’d arrived at the opera for the performance of Gounad’s Faust!

The first thing of note was the pentacle projected onto the curtain. It was red (the image shown is of the blue tinted pentacle they used later-click for a larger version) but apart from that, I didn’t think it was satanic at all. The five-pointed star wasn’t displayed upside down, there was no goat head, and the markings around the edges were the symbols of the zodiac! Hardly evil stuff. I tried to find the exact symbol online but haven’t turned up the picture they used. I remain firm in my belief that this was simply a pagan/Wiccan symbol not meant to be evil in any way (though I am quite certain people believe anything pagan is evil). This didn’t begin to bother me until it reappeared throughout the performance.

The opera began with a live orchestra playing from the pit. They were lovely. I didn’t hear a note out of tune (at university performances, I’m often cringing from flat or sharp instruments). Likewise the singers were at the top of their game. However, it was the venue and the story that didn’t sit well with us.repeatedly throughout the performance. But I digress.

I’d gone into the show believing it to be about a deal with the devil, and it was. But I should have known that meant the story would be preachy. After watching the opera, I’ve decided it should have a subtitle. Faust: or why you shouldn’t give it up before marriage.

The problem with the venue, and it was more my guy’s problem than mine, was that no actual sets were used. Instead, the opera utilized a “virtual set” created by shifting screens/panels and several projectors hooked up to computers [You can read more about this kind of theater setup here]. My guy was miffed that “real” sets weren’t used. I pointed out that our three hour performance would have taken four hours if they’d had to shift out the scenery between each change. He maintained it would be worth it.

I found the separate panels’ ability to shift up, down, and side-to-side all at different speeds was impressive. The thing that bothered me about the sets, was the image quality of the items projected fifty feet tall. A backdrop featuring a field of flowers and the sun looked pixilated to my eyes. In my mind, if real sets are sacrificed in favor of digital, the least they could do is provide good quality images. Then again, I’m a graphic designer.

I had one major beef with this production. During a scene with the period villagers (they were dressed like sixteenth century townsfolk), the devil sang a rousing song about “The Golden Calf”. Projected behind him on the screens was first an image of a golden calf. An then it quickly morphed to shots of modern day tanks rolling along and pumping oil pumpjacks–things clearly not found in sixteenth century Germany. The social commentary seemed well-received by the rest of the audience. However, it should be noted that upon leaving the hall, we were hard pressed to find a vehicle that cost under thirty thousand dollars driving away.

Below is an image of the virtual set the Indianpolis Opera used last year for their production of Carmen at a smaller facility. I did get a chance to see this in person. I’d have to say I preferred the more intimate Carmen (they scaled it down for the venue) than the supposedly larger scaled Faust. (It was also only $35 per ticket, full price).

I later went back to Ticketmaster to see how much our seats would have cost us full price. For the Sunday matinee, Row H, seat 103 is marked as being $90 with an additional $8.30 in fees. Nearly $100 for ONE seat!! I regret to admit the performance was not worth $200. It was, however, worth the sixty I paid.

I began writing up the full synopsis of this performance but stopped because the post was getting super long. Let me know if this is something you’d be interested in reading (basically my running commentary of the opera). Otherwise it’s going in the trash!

Hopefully you got a little amusement from our night at the opera.

Have you gone to any opera performances? Did they use “real” sets or these projected ones? If you’ve seen a performance with projected sets, did you like it? I’d love to hear your opinions! 🙂

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