Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Opera v Bratislave

[The opera in Bratislava]

Yesterday's Rotary meeting (always a highlight of my week) was a big one. Anna was elected president and Stefan, vice president. Mario, the treasurer, went over the financial tables and the budget was approved. But unfortunately, before I could describe my wonderful weekend in Slovak, I had to leave--we were going to the opera! (I also forgot at home the thank-you note I'd spent hours writing for Mario... that made me very unhappy.)

I got to wear my nicest clothes (I love dressing up). We picked up Gabo, stara mama, and Erika (she was also going, which makes sense, since every time I've been to her house she's played opera). I think it's only sixty-some kilometers from Nitra to Bratislava, but the drive took over an hour. It felt short, though; certainly after my Saturday!

This was my first time really seeing Bratislava-- the only other time I'd been was flying into Slovakia! And we went right to the Centrum (center), which is also the stare mesto, as it tends to be in most cities here.

Maybe the orange wash from the sunset helped, but I liked what I saw of Bratislava from the road. The river (Danube) was beautiful, as was the "New Bridge" across it (really, it's thirty years old, but that's what people call it). I was surprised the river looked nice--again, it might have just been the lighting-- because in my learn-Slovak book, one of the very first dialogues, which supposedly takes place in Bratislava, includes this:
Pan: Ale preco nie je modra rieka? (But why isn't the river blue?)
Pani: Voda je spinava. Bohuzial'. (The water's dirty. Unfortunately.)

And I was honestly also surprised to like what I saw of Bratislava. Slovakia's youth, at least the ones I've talked to, are not warmed to the city. As one girl delicately put it, "It is the ugliest city in the world!" But compared to other cities I've seen, I thought it had a lot going for it. And then again, I only walked around the stare mesto, which is of course the city's showcase. Tibor and Gabo were joking about it.
Tibor: Len tento ulica, a to...! ("This street, and that street... And that's it!")
Me: Ale, nepotrebujem vidiet' skaredu Bratislavu, nie? ("But, do I really need to see the ugly parts of Bratislava?")
Tibor: Mhmm, pravda. ("Yeah, that's true.")

The Centrum included several embassies (it seemed kind of random: Greece, Poland, Russia, all next to each other), and everyone made sure to point out the American embassy to me. It was a nice-looking building. The star of the square, however, was the opera house, built in the mid- eighteen hundreds in Classical style. Every little bit was very ornate with molding or chubby cherubs all in white and gold.

Of course I forgot my camera, again, so no pictures of any of this. Oh well. I'll definitely get to Bratislava again later.

I'm not sure when the opera started, but after some coffee (Kofola for me) we went inside. The interior was even more intricately worked! I really liked what I'll call the main "chandelier," for want of a better word. It was a giant ball of light bulbs. Which sounds modern, I know, but somehow it blended with everything else perfectly. It worked.

One thing that always sort of disturbs me about opera houses are all the mirrors everywhere. Why is that always the case? Oh, it's pretty unrelated, but if I'm going to mention mirrors I'll have to put in this wonderful quote, from Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius by Borges: "We discovered (such a discovery is inevitable in the late hours of the night) that mirrors have something monstrous about them.... One of the heresiarchs of Uqbar had declared that mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of men." Not my favorite story in Labyrinths, but the first paragraph is incredible.

We had seats in the middle of the second floor (if you're not counting the ground floor). There were actually only two floors in all; it felt small. And a very small turnout last night. Most of the seats were empty. Sort of sad...

Tibor had bought me a program (he refused to let me pay, and I felt bad because the Deutsch/English program was three times the cost of the 1 Euro Slovak program), so I was able to read the whole plot quickly before it started. Which was helpful, because while the opera was in three different languages, English was not one of them (French, German, Slovak). It was kind of confusing! There were French soldiers in the Tyrol (during the Napoleonic wars), and I couldn't tell sometimes if they were speaking French or Slovak... they went back and forth, and the Slovak was with French accents, though they sang in French... The Tyrolians spoke Slovak with German accents, but sometimes they really spoke German, and they also sang in French. And there was a giant mouse who squeaked in Slovak, and a comic-relief character who would come up on stage and say "What are you saying?? I'm only a poor Slovak and I can't understand!" and then one of the French or Tyrolians would translate into Slovak as well, supposedly for his benefit... So yes, the languages were confusing. Or, maybe not so much, since I don't speak any of them. Sometimes I would understand the German, and sometimes the French, and sometimes the Slovak; and sometimes I wouldn't understand any of the words, but the actions always speak for themselves.

The opera was called La Fille du Regiment (Die Regimentstochter, Dcera na Pluk, The Daughter of the Regiment) and dated from 1815. The composer was Italian but had lived his adult life in Paris and composed in French. Go figure. It was about a French regiment under Napoleon who has raised a foundling child as their own (that's where the title comes in). The regiment is camping in the Tyrol, much to the hatred of the locals, and there the "daughter of the regiment" falls in love with a Tyrolian shepherd boy. Their love is (of course) not to be, since she is obligated to marry someone in the army. Meanwhile, the Tyrolian Marchioness realizes Marie is actually her illegitimate child, and takes her away for proper schooling to be a lady of society. Tonio the shepherd joins the army so he can marry Marie. The Marchioness prepares Marie to marry some odious Duke. But, ah ha, Tonio bursts in and proclaims his love, and the Marchioness realizes this is the way to her daughter's happiness, so she permits the match. And everyone ends up happy, except the Duke and his mother. Classic opera...

I don't know about the plotlines, but I like opera for the singing. I've never heard an opera singer who didn't have an amazing voice! And this opera had great costumes. Plus, the singers were actually good-looking and trim, which defies one of those opera stereotypes.

There was a bit of a catastrophe halfway through! A very large, plaster bird prop on stage somehow fell off the stage and into the orchestra pit, where it shattered! Very mysterious how this happened, since there was only the lead singer on stage at the time, and she was fifteen feet away. The bird was solid plaster! Is there a phantom of the Bratislava opera? It's so lucky none of the musicians was hurt... There was a loud clatter of music stands and things--amazingly, the lead singer held her note and didn't even blink--and then a louder clamor as everyone in the theater craned to see or actually got up for a closer look, "whispering" loudly. We saw the shattered bird at intermission; it had been put on the conductor's podium. It was actually in pretty good shape--the tail was broken off, but you could still tell it was a bird.

The opera was very long, but (thankfully) not as long as Parcival, the Wagner opera I saw with Dad and Deirdre when the Seattle Opera House first opened after its remodeling. Parcival was five hours long! This was "only" three and a half, I think. As we left the theater, my head whipped around. I had heard an American accent! I investigated. Sure enough, two women, definitely Americans. This was exciting for me, because believe it or not, this was the first time since being here that I'd met native English speakers (Rotary kids don't count). I ran up to them. "Excuse me, are you American?" "Yes, yes we are!" It would have been more fun for me if I'd met them in Nitra, though. In showcase-Bratislava across from the American embassy... you expect it more. Later, talking to Tibor:
Tibor: Nove priatel'ia? (New friends?)
Me: Mhmm... ano... (Um, yeah...)
Tibor: Od Austry? (From Austria?)
Me: Nie, Amerika! (No, America!)
Tibor: AH! Amerikan! Gabo, pocuvaj...! (Whoa, Gabo, listen to this!)

I was devastatingly tired coming back in the car. Not really sure why, since it was only ten, but that's how it was. Not to mention devastatingly hungry! I hadn't eaten since lunch, since I'd gone to Rotary right after school, and gone straight from there to Bratislava. So back at home in the flat, my eyes almost closed at a quarter past eleven, I quickly ate a yogurt and some banana bread (the easiest food around) before running off to bed. I was still ridiculously tired today at school. I'm still tired now. Hopefully I can go to bed early tonight!

Good news at school today was that I finally got what they call my "IC kartu," which equals International Student Identification Card. I've been waiting on that since school started, which has been tough, because it means all the time I had to go to the office to get special lunch tickets (everyone else just swipes) and, especially, I've had to have change for the bus every day. Bus drivers get angry even accepting 1 Euro pieces (as too much money), but they won't take small change (1 and 2 cent pieces). So all the time I've had to go out and buy something small so I can break some bill and hopefully get enough change of the right size... I'm so happy to have a card now so I can go to the bus center and load money on it-- instead of paying up front with the bus driver, I can get on in the middle and just swipe the card. That will be nice.

While I'm on the subject of buses, I'll mention the payment system. Okay, so 95% of people get on the bus through the side door, where they're supposed to swipe their cards (adults have bus cards, not ISIC cards) on the sensors. The other 5% get on through the front door, where they hand the bus driver their money, and he prints them a receipt. You can't lose that receipt! Ruth told me the first time we took the bus, "Oh, and don't lose your receipt, just for the ride." I didn't ask why, I just made sure I kept it. Well, I found out one day, during the second week of school!

It was very sinister. Two stops before Golianova, a normal-looking woman got on the bus at the front, where I was standing. She and the bus driver exchanged some words; the doors closed; and suddenly the atmosphere got very tense. She yelled out in Slovak, "Receipts!" She pulled out a radar gun thing from her purse. She went along with her gun scanning people's receipts to make sure they were valid, and then tearing them. It seemed really ineffective to me, though, since while she was really intimidating and scary, she only checked about five people who were in the very front (including me)... the bus was jam-packed, a double-long, and then it stopped at Golianova and everyone got off. It would have been so easy, if you didn't have a receipt, to slip to the middle of the bus and then get off at the next stop.

Well, if you get on at the front of the bus, you're going to have a receipt, and there's really no way you can get on without paying, since the bus driver's right there. But what about everyone else, who gets on at the middle? I think it would be really easy not to pay. You just don't swipe your card. The bus driver certainly isn't paying attention, and no one else is going to care. Since I've ridden the bus every day twice a day and I've only seen the crackdown happen once, I wonder how many people out there are running the risk? ("Fare dodging," I learned the official term is, from the English textbook at school.) I would expect tons, but oddly I've never seen anyone not swipe their card (it makes a little sound when you do). Ruth says it's a really big fine if you get caught, but like I said, I think unless you're standing exactly where the fare person decides to get on, you can survive the raids as well.

Not that I'm planning on this.

Much love!


  1. Ahoj Rhiannon,
    Please thank your host family and Mario from us for all the kind attention they have afforded you. We hope to meet them someday, should they be coming this way. Nitra must be a very friendly place, as well as charming. Keep the blogs coming; your very appreciative audience is growing.
    Nana and Granddad

  2. Rhiannon,

    Nice job again. To get to see an opera is special, but falling plaster...

    BTW, perhaps you knew, but Rick has quoted that exact Borges quote more than once, with one significant difference. We prefer the earlier translation that substitutes "grotesque" for "monstrous."

    Love, Dad

    P.S. For reasons I don't understand half the time I post here I am identified as Mom. I assure you each time I carefully sign in as myself.

  3. How could freshman year of college compare to this? Thank you again for the great post. We all really appreciate them, as you can tell. Love, mom.

  4. Ha, I knew Dad wouldn't be able to resist commenting if I worked some Borges into there (though that wasn't my [sole] intention of quoting it). I wasn't aware Rick quotes that, but I'm a quoting person, and as soon as I read it I knew I would remember it forever. I've always loved the word "monstrous," but as "grotesque" has connotations of distortion (or is that only to me?), I agree it's a better choice. I also love the second line of that story, "The mirror troubled the depths of a corridor in a country house on Gaona Street..." Beautiful. I'm halfway through Labyrinths now (I only pick it up once and a while), and let me tell you, we have a lot to discuss in nine months...

    Thanks for everyone's wonderful comments. I really love reading them.