Culture Magazine

A Lazy Person's Guide to Opera: Don Giovanni - Part 4

By Pinkall @pinkall
It's opening night.  You're surrounded by over-perfumed women, their male dates following along as some kind of prized door-opener.  "Something's wrong here," you think to yourself.  "Men acting chivalrous, women aloof.  What madness has brought indignation and petty pompousness over us?"  Don't worry my friend; they are not speaking in tongues nor is this a renaissance fair.  You are at an opera.
Perhaps some aristocrats go a little too far with the snobbery, but more likely than not, you are standing too close to the wine bar.  If you turn around, you will see the other 1500 people who are attending the opera tonight in their jeans, with their iphones, sneaking in a boxes of Raisinettes and Junior Mints.  But, there is still something separating you from experiencing the opera as these people will.  Of course you know to try not to read the supertitles the whole time, and you will remember that operas are NOT movies, and you will be a snob, but how will you socialize with these people?
Tip #4:  Speak the Best Opera BS - Lingo of the Opera Elite

So here are several situations, and I will try to help you through them.  After all, it takes a lot of work to be a lazy opera-goer, so let's go through the basics.
First of all, you must know how to correctly pronounce the opera that you are seeing.  In this case, it is Don Giovanni.  You won't fool anyone if you pronounce it (dahn jee-oh-VAH-nee).  Do not pronounce the first "i" in Giovanni.  That "i" makes the "g" soft like "j" in English.  You should pronounce the opera (dohn joh-VAH-nee).  And if you want to be really proper, put a little space between the "VAH" and "nee".  Here's an example of an Italian person saying it.
Ok, you are about to go to your seat when the star of the show (possibly your friend?) sees you.  There's a crowd queuing to have their tickets torn so they can sit down.  How can you impress them? Say "Toi, toi, toi" to the opera star (sounds like "toy, toy, toy").  All of the opera geeks around will instantly know that you are a true opera expert. But what does it mean? Well, it is like saying "Break a leg!".  There are several ideas about how it originated, but it is traditionally seen as a way to imitate an ancient Germanic superstitious ritual where someone grabs you and spits three times over your shoulder to scare away demons.  I don't know if this has anything to do with it, but "toi" sounds like the beginning of the German word for the devil - "Teufel".  Another thing you can say is "Merde" which is a French cuss word (the 'S' word) but they use it like "Break a leg".  It's really a bad thing, but it means a good thing.  Or, you can say "In bocca al lupo" (een BOH-kah ahl LOO-poh), which means "in the mouth of the wolf" in Italian.  The opera singer would respond with "crepi il lupo" or "may the wolf die".  Any of these will definitely impress the opera elite.
So, the opera begins and you want to sound intelligent to the person next to you.  After all, you are spending a few hours together, and hopefully neither of you ate onions for dinner.  You probably shouldn't talk too much, but let's say a soprano has just screamed a high note for too long and is just showing off.  You are upset, because they're making the opera even longer than it has to be.  You lean over to your neighbor and say "What a Diva" (DEE-vah) - this literally means "goddess" and many times used negatively. But, if it's the tenor or any other guy you should call him a "Divo" (DEE-voh).
If  you loved a particular Aria (Ah-ree-uh), or solo, you should applaud first by clapping.  The next level of appreciation higher is yelling "Bravo" (BRAH-voh), and if you want to sound Italian, flip the "r".  Most people don't get this right, but you should only yell "bravo" for men.  If you are cheering a woman, yell Brava (BRAH-vah), a group of female singers "Brave" (BRAH-vay), or if you are cheering either a group of men or group of men and women yell "Bravi" (BRAH-vee).  If you want to give even more applause, throw some flowers on stage at the curtain call.  But that means that you have to plan this beforehand, so it may not be very genuine unless you, for some reason, carry around flowers to throw at people you love all the time.
The orchestra is playing in the pit and that guy waving his arms under a spotlight is the Maestro (MAHY-stroh). The people on stage who don't sing in the chorus and are just there for looks are called Supernumeraries.  And don't forget from the first tip, that all of the little segments that are played by the harpsichord and where the singer is speak-singing, that is called recitative (reh-see-tuh-TEEV).  Other than that, make sure you know the main characters, and you've got yourself a pretty successful chance of being one of the best lazy opera-goers around.
I hope you all go out and enjoy an opera near you.  Tonight is opening night for UMKC's production of Don Giovanni.  I hope to see you all there - maybe you can plan to bring some throwing flowers.

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