Last night I went to Rossin’s Barber of Sevilla in San Francisco. I flew up just for this show, which in it self is amazing. In a word, the opera was awesome! This was my first live operatic experience and I was completely overwhelmed. In fact I’m still processing what I witnessed. It’s been years since I’ve seen any stage performance, and I’ve never seen one of this quality, not to speak of an opera. It was not what I expected at all. The singers were young and thin. I expected old and ‘big’. Lol. And I was able to easily understand. Again I anticipated total incomprehension. Yet with the subtitles I understood. The theater did a nice job with the subtitles. They were up high, so as to not distract and they were brief, almost like twitter messages. They just delivered the essence and then let the music do its work. It was wonderful.
My interest in opera stems from my interest in Indian aesthetics, particularly Bharata’s Natya Shastra and even the Vaishnava rasa theory of Rupa Gosvami. My old Sanskrit kavya classes with Professor Warder were finally being activated in this unexpected way. There we learned some of literary rules which govern how Sanskrit drama is composed according to rasika principles. From my perspective The Barber of Seville is simply a performance of shrigara and hasya rasas, the love and comedic moods. Rossini has drawn upon all the elements of Western aesthetics to achieve virtually the same effect as any Radha Krishna rasa lila play one might see in Vrindavan. The universals are the same in spite of the huge difference in the cultural particulars. No doubt many people would frown heavily on my comparison of the Barber of Seville with Radha Krishna Lila plays, but it’s there loud and clear.
On an amusing side issue, anyone of my generation, who grew up on a diet of Warner Brother’s Bugs Bunny cartoons, will be amazed how much operatic knowledge they have. I already knew so many of Rossini’s songs just from watching Bugs Bunny!