Last night I attended a concert with Pretty Yende at the StaatenHaus am Rheinpark at 6pm in Koln. She is the hot new South African opera star adored by the Metopera whom I wrote about earlier. I found an under-the-radar, one-shot performance in Koln and I managed to get myself a ticket several months beforehand. Pretty (that’s really her name, she owns it) was partnered with Eric Cutler, a tenor, and Igor Golovatenko, a baritone, singing arias from Romeo and Juliet and Lucia de Lammermoor. She had performed these recently at the MetOpera in New York.
Naturally, as I do at each performance, I study the audience. Asians are not yet a significant part of the classical music crowd in Europe. There are normally a sprinkling of Asian attendees, but few and far between.
Let’s face it, I look Asian. I AM Asian. And I also look to see if there is any other representation. There are even fewer of any other ethnicity. Sad but true. I have adjusted myself to being the only one in the audience as I was tonight, and didn’t really mind, considering who I was about to see.
Occasionally I feign myself as being a former crown princess of some ancient city. I strut about royally during the pauses, disdaining the cheap champagne and decayed mushroom puff pastries being served at the bars. I peruse the huge bouquets of lilies and roses, and imagine that they were being sent to my hotel room as an acknowledgement of my attendance. I update my fantasy to being a wealthy, thirty-something owner of an internet empire. I idylly drift in and out of world-class performances and bummel around elegant Baroque castles, wineries, and fineries of Europe.
I return to my Row 1, Seat 1 proudly. I could observe every twitch and turn of both conductor and star performers and detect what was really going on in their minds. You are so close to them you can see their temples pulsating as they reach their climaxes (musical).
But back to the performance. Stellar. Stellar. Stellar. Pretty Yende was poised and perfect. Every note was chiselled with the finest of singing tools and the wind going through her throat melted like honey.
I breathed every breath she took, as her trills and curls gave me tingles like lightning up my hairy arm. I imagined drawing her as a model in my figure drawing class, and saw the shapes and triangles on her face and body. Her costumes were an extension of her inner beauty and strength, and her name. I was captivated.
A couple of men in the back of the audience shouted “Bravo!! Bravo!!” Mesmerized by her delivery, I suddenly discovered myself yelling the same. I couldn’t believe it was me—that quiet Asian wonan, who can never raise her voice loud enough to be heard answering questions in German class, suddenly turning into Katy Perry and shouting as if “you can hear me R-O-A-R???” while both disregarding and commanding attention?!?
Hey, it’s easy when you are congratulating perfection. Timing my call was perfect too, like what a percussionist does to nail that single triangle stroke or clash of gongs. Could it have really been me? The polite German woman next to me looked taken aback and perplexed. (If you know German audiences like I do, they never give standing ovations.**)
I started to like this new-found powerful image of myself. Why stop?
At the end of the next piece, I suddenly heard a different shout.
Oh God, THE WORD IN ITALIAN HAS GENDER!
Did I really shout what I heard the first time, or did I follow like a lamb what I heard??
I lambishly shouted and mimicked again, but quickly disregarded my first faux pas and claimed this time, “BRAVA! BRAVA!”
After all, why kill a good thing coming?
Sorry, Pretty Yende, if you are reading this, you really were Pretty Awesome. And I was thrilled to meet you.
*I noticed that the title of this post was used by the NY MET in their press releases but I tagged mine before seeing it. So hopefully I wont be accused if plagiarism! You can also find the smashing cover of Opera Magazine UK with Pretty Yende on it here: http://www.opera.co.uk/, along with many others to come!
And here’s an interesting discussion I found on the web about the use of Brava, Bravo, Bravi, Brave, Bravatissimo, etcetera…etcetera…
A quiet moment in Koln just before the performance, just so I can remind myself that I was really there:
**There were no standing ovations at any opera performances that I attended in Germany, except once for Nina Stemme in Tristan und Isolde in Berlin’s Deutsche Oper. Normally, as they did for Pretty Yende, Germans stamp their feet sitting down in lieu of standing up and clapping. As an architect, that makes me cringe–not so much because of concern for the weight or stress on the structure, but for the abuse on the floor!! OMG!