Going to the Barber

It was right at a year ago that I went to The Death Star in Arlington to see a simulcast of The Dallas Opera’s Production of Turandot.

Cowboys Stadium - The Death Star

Cowboys Stadium – The Death Star

I went mostly for the experience of an odd event (seeing an opera in an enormous Texas Football dome) but it was a transformative event. Now I’m an opera fan.

In the past year I managed to see Carmen at the Winspear and a handful of other simulcasts. Now it was time for another evening at the massive home of the Cowboys (now called AT&T stadium). The Dallas Opera was showing The Barber of Seville.

Candy wasn’t able to go, so I was on my own. I took some time off and left work early – wanting to get to the Mid-Cities before the Friday rush hour traffic choked the transport system. As I worked my way through the freeway system (the stadium is over 35 miles from where I work/live) I thought about how I have worked to get away from a car-oriented lifestyle. I think I drive about a third of the miles that I used to. It’s a bit of a shock when I’m forced to fight my way across the city like that – though so many people do it all day, every day.

I arrived extra early, found some food, and sat in the parking lot (it was a warm, beautiful day) and finished a long Kindle book I’ve been fighting through for a while. That was actually sort of nice.

Because I was one of the first people in I had my choice of seats. I ended up right in the middle, right beside the little patio where they were doing the filming of the introductions and stuff. The showing didn’t seem to get as much attention as last year – and the crowd looked like it might have been a little smaller. Still, it was a few thousands – a lot of people for an opera.

First they showed a Bugs Bunny Cartoon – The Rabbit of Seville, of course.

Then the opera started.

It’s a surprisingly good place to see something like that. Of course, the acoustics are horrible. There isn’t much you can do about the cavernous echo in a vast chamber like that. They did the best – the floor was lined with an array of massive speakers pointed outward. Still, it sounded like a second orchestra was hammering away slightly out of tune and far away. But your ears get used to it and it wasn’t half bad.

The High Definition Screen in Cowboy’s Stadium is famous around the world and to see it live… it is even more impressive than that. The whole setup is disconcerting to look at – the mind simply can’t comprehend an indoor space that large. It’s a shock to see a tiny ant-like person walking across an open area – and your mind realizes exactly what you are looking at. When you tip your head slightly up the screen completely fills your field of view with its ten million plus LED-lit pixels.

It’s not the size of the thing that impresses – it’s the quality. It brightness, sharpness, and overall quality of image is better than the best HDTV you will see anywhere else. They did a great job of filming. You can see details never visible in the opera house except in the most expensive of seats. That’s usually a good thing – except when you get to see how hard the performers work and how much they sweat.

The opera itself was a hoot. It was the first comic opera I had seen and that took a little getting used to. It emphasizes the fact that for many places at many times Opera was an entertainment for everybody. The Barber of Seville is sort of an Adam Sandler movie with great music. A lot of pratfalls, mugging, crude jokes, and corny romance. And a happy ending, of course.

I enjoyed how they put in a sort of conflict in the second act. Evil Bartolo shows Rosina her letter that she wrote to “Lindoro” and convinces her Lindoro is only using her on orders from Count Almaviva. She believes him and is sad. But when Lindoro arrives and she lights into him all he has to do is reveal that he really is Almaviva and all is fine. The conflict is solved so easily and quickly that it is almost a satire – saying that in the world of Figaro no sadness is allowed to exist for more than a quick aria or two.

The music, of course, is a masterpiece. The overture justifies its fame, and Figaro’s opening number, Largo al factotum is a hoot.

The time went by fast, and everybody was happy in the end. Next door to the stadium is the Ranger’s Ballpark and the baseball game ended (the home team won 1-0 on a walkoff in the eleventh inning) at about the same time – so the traffic getting out was tough… but it was still all smiles. I had tried to park in such a way that I could get out easier, but that didn’t work – it was truly a futile precaution.

Turandot at the Death Star

Most of you know about Cowboys Stadium. A lot of folks call it Jerryworld, after Jerry Jones, of course – but I refer to it as the Death Star. It is a structure of almost unimaginable size. When you are driving around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the thing will, often unexpectedly, be spotted looming on the horizon like a giant scoop of steely ice cream. You will look, and then realize how far away it is. I’ve seen the thing from just west of Mesquite – a good forty miles away.

Cowboys Stadium - The Death Star

Cowboys Stadium – The Death Star

Its purpose, of course, is to be the home of the Dallas Cowboys, America’s (nowadays mediocre) Team. But it is also used for other purposes, from concerts to monster truck rallies. I’ve seen a basketball game there.

Other than its gargantuan size, the stadium’s most famous attribute is its video screen. A four-sided apparatus (two large screens on the sides, and two small ones on the ends) that hangs down from the roof over the field, it simply has to be seen to be believed. The first thing that strikes you is the size – 72 feet tall and 160 feet wide. But what is jaw-droppingly amazing is the quality and brightness of the picture it displays. It is better than real… it is real life re-imagined on a grand scale.

So when I read that they were going to put that screen to a unique use – they were going to simulcast a production of the Dallas Opera’s production of Turandot from the Winspear Opera House onto those giant screen, I had to be there.

Turandot simulcast at Cowboys Stadium.

Turandot simulcast at Cowboys Stadium.

I have to admit, the main reason I wanted to go was simply the uniqueness of the event. Grand, full-scale, opera being piped live into the gargantuan shrine of huge sweaty sportsmen… this was something I had to see – the collision of two very different worlds. I picked up tickets for Candy and I, and marked the calendar to drive out there.

We had our doubts. I had seen some light opera over the years, but never a whole production of grand opera. What would it be like on a giant video screen? Candy especially didn’t think it would be all that – and almost didn’t go. She asked, “It isn’t long is it?”

“Yes, it’s very long.”

“They aren’t singing in another language are they?”

“Yes, it’s in Italian, but there will be subtitles.”

In the end, we made the drive. There were twenty-nine thousand people there. I don’t think there have been very many live opera performances with (counting the folks at the Winspear) thirty five or so thousand spectators. Before the festivities started, the crowd was pretty restless and innervated.

I wanted to get there on time because before the opera itself started they showed a cartoon on the big screen. It’s what most folks think of when they think of opera – What’s Up Opera, with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. You know… “Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!”

Elmer Fudd on the Giant Screen

Elmer Fudd on the Giant Screen

And then, after another mini-opera modeled after Julia Child baking a chocolate cake and a bunch of interviews, the performance started.

It was greatness. It was fucking amazing. It was fantastic. It was a thing of exquisite beauty.

When you see little bits of a Grand Opera – the overdone costumes and makeup, the melodramatic stories, the talking-in-music – it seem sort of silly, weird, and overly precious. But when you put it together like this, done well, it is an overpowering emotional experience.

I remember, in the middle of the third act, looking sideways at the massive crowd packed into the steeply sloping seats staring out at that video screen, mouths gaping, completely taken in, enraptured. I don’t see how anyone with anything approaching an open mind could not be amazed and enthralled at what they saw.

Oh, and Candy loved it too. She had brought her iPad so she could read if she was bored. It never came out of its case. She said it was beautiful and amazing. She was especially impressed with Antonello Palombi, the tenor playing Prince Calàf. Here’s an interesting story from his Wikipedia Page:

On 10 December 2006 he was thrust into the media spotlight in Franco Zeffirelli’s new production of Aida at La Scala, which opened the theatre’s 2006/2007 season. During the second night of the run, Palombi took over the role of Radames when Roberto Alagna walked off the stage after booing from the loggione (opera fans who sit in the less-expensive seats at the very back of the Scala). Palombi entered on stage wearing jeans and a black shirt to finish the act, and returned in costume after the interval to sing the remainder of the opera.

Nobody was booing from Cowboys Stadium. It’s pretty odd to see folks giving a standing ovation to performers that aren’t even there.

How was it on the screen? Not bad. Some of the closeups were a little strange – seeing things like beads of sweat or imperfections in makeup blown up to the size of a schoolbus was disconcerting. They did as good a job with the sound as they could – the vast open space echoes terribly, of course, but they had extra speakers and subwoofers lining the field and it wasn’t as bad as you would think.

So – now I’m pumped. I really want to see one of these live now. Remember, those folks are singing live… really live – they are not miked. The purpose of the simulcast was to introduce folks to something they might not otherwise see and get them interested… and it worked, in spades.

Oh man, in October they are doing Carmen at the Winspear…. I wonder if I can save enough money for tickets.