Your posse of ballad-singer buddies carrying the chick who likes the guy you're after in a chemically induced death-resembling sleep.
You know your life is way crazier than the other girls at the office when your gang of street-singer friends shows up at the front door with the etc.
The question is: how does La Gioconda manage to be about an hour too long, feature the stupidest (but this time we mean it!) most verkakte libretto ever imagined, include a ditty we all know either as "Hello muddah" or "that commercial with the little puppy who can't quite sing the last line but has no more fleas" and still be one of the best times you can have without Ann Coulter and a pack of hungry lions?
In the case of The People vs. La Gioconda, here are the exhibits:
Exhibit A: (con) Seriously, I don't know about you guys, but I'm never sure where to go about getting a bottle of stuff that isn't poison, but looks like poison, but only knocks you out, and allows you to awake just when your rival in love who has decided to save you is about to be stabbed. Apparently in 17th century Venice, this was like getting a latte.
Exhibit B: (pro) The great thing about hiring a soprano who used to be a mezzo is she can get all chesty about the "fra le tenebre" and such. The great thing about that soprano being Violeta Urmana is that the fach reassignment surgery appears to be a done deal, no Frankenstein seams on the voice. I bet her Lady Macbeth would be a bitch on wheels, though after seeing her in La Gioconda--Italian for You're Joking--and Ariadne, it's hard to know if she's a stage animal or not. The former is a bit of a cartoon and the latter is too, only a grand and tragic cartoon. Neither one cries out for acting, per se.
Exhibit C: (con) The Dance of the Hours would be one thing if the opera weren't already (with intermissions) on a geological time frame.
Exhibit D: (pro) The Met has some excellent dancers on hand. Actually their ovation was louder than anyone else's, whatever the hell that's about. Perhaps Peter Gelb's next direction in pulling in audience should be to cancel the entire season and just put on Giselle and The Nutcracker and stuff. I jest. Where are those smelling salts? Does the vast majority of people secretly like ballet better than opera? I know I don't. But I digress from my original point which was that the dancers really were awfully poised and lovely to look at. That "I can spin around on my toe and my other leg won't touch the ground" trick becomes quite jaw-dropping after a point.
Exhibit E: (con) Plieting about on a 40 year old set, it probably goes without saying you're not going to bust out the newest moves, which suddenly makes me think of that horrible poseurish looking thing on the mailing from BAM where the swanned up Ballerina is flashing gang symbols. Shoot me. But just the same, with that much mothball-ready material onstage, I kept half hoping some mad auteur would swoop in and stage it instead with footage of Satanic rituals or whatever's hip in Berlin this season. A revisionist Gioconda: that would be comedy gold.
Exhibit F: (pro) the rest of the cast, for the most part. Point, game, match, and set. Once in a while I do get the faint sarcastic vibe form Borodina in stupidhead material, but I may be projecting. She certainly brings the loud. Say did anyone else hear she smokes? Because her voice sounds something like indestructible, in that Simionato way. While I do like a little element of nervousness and potential heartbreak in my singers, there's also something gratifying about a pair of brass cords, a voice built like a tank. Mishura, by the way, who didn't entirely impress as Amneris in one of the joyless Aidas of the last few years, was pretty much a peach as La Cieca. Didn't keep one from anticipating Podles, but you couldn't ask for much more in the chestage department, nor that of campy, just-in-case-you-forgot representations of blindness.
Machado sounds like a work in progress, but maaaybe an excellent work. He spent more of the evening tiptoeing than I'd have liked, but he's decametres if not furlongs ahead of the pack (Licitra, Farina...) in terms of tone and musicality. Lucic (I hate to lose his diacritics, as it's one of the fun features of Serbian that it has two distinct "ch" sounds. They're phonemic. Isn't that exciting?) barreled through the role of Barnaba but wasn't much fun in an awfully juicy villain role.
Exhibit G: Oh my god, the note. The note the note the note.* How could I not talk about the note? It made my eyes roll back in my head is all. She didn't do that "Am I still even singing?" trick--it was a plain old one-p piano, but it was shapely and ravishing.
I'd kind of like to say something statementy about Paata Burchuladze and the value of a well aged bear of a voice but I think he's just one of those singers I like because I like him.
Oh and p.s. the other reason Gioconda prevails despite its many laughable qualities is that nearly every bar is filled with operatic deliciousness. Maybe Urmana, whom I first heard in--no joke--a high school auditorium in Cicero, Illinois, billed as Violeta Urmanacitivus or something along those lines, can talk the Met in the interest of novelty into putting on I Lituani. That could only be a positive development.
*I wont be coy. In case you're not a Giocondaphile, The Note is a b flat that comes between the contralto's aria "Voce di donna" and the baritone/tenor duet "Enzo Grimaldo, Pricipe di Santa Fior." It's well set up to be a dazzler, and back in the day some Croatian lady named Kunc** whom I've never much cared for made it her calling card. "Pipple came for mine b flet," she is rumored to have said, "and vent home." Story courtesy of one Mr. JL, who may wish to remain nameless so we'll stick to initials.
**There I am being coy. Zinka Kunc, better known as Milanov.