Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Deutsche Oper am Rhein

People-watching is, on average, much better in the city than in a smaller town. It seems in a smaller community there is a weaker need to define yourself as "other." I imagine most people recognize their own individuality more easily in a smaller community. Whatever the reason, just watching the world go by can be a fascinating occupation in a place like the Ruhrgebiet.

We were at the opera in Düsseldorf this past weekend. The production was a rarely performed piece by Richard Strauss in which all the main characters are first killed and then resurrected over the course of the next two hours or so. Current American cinema has a bad reputation because it always has to give us the "happy ending," but Hollywood has nothing on the opera. We all know the scene in recent American films, in which, typically, the male lead is forced to proclaim his undying love for the female lead in a public place: the more onlookers the better. In the opera, characters have to proclaim their love in the same sort of way, but in the one we saw, Die Frau ohne Schatten, the audience includes supernatural beings and both parties are dripping blood. It doesn't get much more dramatic.

The people-watching at the opera was great too. The audience is better-heeled than the crowd around the bahnhof, but you get the same kind of extremes. I'm pretty sure I saw a Nehru jacket being worn by one patron. Haircolor, jewelry, shoes... I felt as though I should have had a check list the way birders do. But my best sighting, the equivalent of an ivory-billed woodpecker so to speak, came on the train on the way to Düsseldorf. I sat across from a young couple who had obviously spent a lot of time getting ready for the evening. She was Dolly Parton meets Nina Hagen. A red check gingham blouse and a thin sliver of what looked like PVC pipe lodged in a dramatically gauged out ear. From one point of view, she looked as though she would have been comfortable at one of my mom's bridge parties. Then you notice the two tiny silver balls hanging from her nose and you want to offer her your handkerchief. He was a cross between, maybe, James Dean and Vince Price. White t-shirt, tight jeans, but a big belt buckle with a skull on it. They were probably on their way to a disco, but I couldn't help thinking about them as the opera cast came out for their twentieth or thirtieth bow. At some level, my traveling companions and the world of opera or maybe just the world of "high" art have in common a love of the dramatic and neither is overly concerned with restraint or good taste. And both provide wonderful entertainment.

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