At the local opera house, it was the third of the six-performance run of Il Mascalzone (aka: The Scoundrel), the second of “The Dastardly Man” cycle by the great Immortale. Any kinks that had revealed themselves the first time around had been ironed out by now: after all, even though this was a new production, The Scoundrel had been performed 2,337,678 times worldwide so that even the rankest amateur knew at least some of the lyrics.
The issue with this production, as with any of similar scope and ambition, was that there was too much set with too many performers and not enough stage to hold them all. The hydraulic system and electronics worked perfectly, but the question on every audience member’s mind was this: were there really motorized cars and automatic doors in 19th-century Florence? The program indicated that this was not an updated version either, which would have been sneered at but then ironically forgiven. The audience overlooked these anachronisms, but they felt taken out of the moment each time the machines whirred.
Then, there were the puppets, which were so realistic as to be almost creepy. Everyone thought some children had wandered onto the stage, until realizing that these figures constantly were surrounded by three people wearing black, one of whom would whip the character’s head around on cue. The alternative would have been to pay children to consistently obey stage directions and say nothing, and good luck with that.
And, in the grand tradition of the art form, many of the performers did not quite fit the ethnicity they were portraying – best to ignore it.
As the plot went into full swing, each featured singer got an aria or two, and a number of opera glasses were shattered as a result. Audience members were able to follow along with the foreign lyrics by having translations appear on computer screens installed on the seat in front of them – another advantage over the past – and shot dirty looks to those who muttered “That’s not what he said!” An appreciative, barely audible sigh would ripple throughout the theater as familiar tunes popped up throughout the score: one was recognizable now as a jingle for ice cream.
The three intermissions were an hour long each for the prime donne and primi uomini to rest their throats and for the stage crew to disassemble one set and build the next from scratch. The conductor entered at the beginning of the show and after each break to take his bows, while the orchestra remembered his many abuses and refused to call him “Maestro”.
The grand finale was a resounding success, with every character on stage dead, dying, or vowing revenge as their portrayers visualized their after-performance naps. The audience section resounded with sobs; the singers revived themselves to take their restrained bows; and flowers rained upon them from all directions. The audience left the opera house that day with a new appreciation for art, theater, and culture, along with gratitude for not having to live in the time period they just witnessed wipe out 9/10ths of the dramatis personae.
The Scoundrel: three performances down, three to go.
THE CURTAIN OPENS….