If you’re a musical theatre fan who’s grown waywardly opera-curious, I generally recommend CARMEN as the ideal beginner opera. Not that I’m at all taking away from the iconic work—it’s a masterpiece, for certain. It just so happens to grease a gentle introduction into a medium that can often be heady, arduous, and feel foreign to many, given its period settings, melodramatics, heightened realism (CARMEN was the first to do otherwise), and foreign language.
I was ecstatic to discover that CARMEN was opening the season at the Royal Swedish Opera. Oh, did I mention I’m in Stockholm? Generally, I find myself traveling through Europe during summer—I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for inflated hotel rates and air tickets. No, actually, it’s just a pleasant weather-time to visit. The Royal Swedish Opera starts their season a touch earlier than most European companies, and I finally was in the window to catch a season opener.
As is the overwhelming trend, the work was done with a modern bent. The Act IV bullfighting scene was realized with projections while the company watched the main event from a television set within the mis-en-scene. Brilliant, I thought, solving two fundamental issues simultaneously: the bullfighting arena often involves an elaborate and costly set and also, the idea of bullfighting is becoming less and less palatable in our politically correct times. Can a bullfighter still be a hero? I never attended a bullfight in my travels through Spain; however, I might have been swayed differently if the toreador-at-large was Kostas Moriginas, hands down the most gifted and handsome Escamillo I’ve ever seen. And from eighth row center, I could make that assessment with utter confidence. Other cast highlights for me included the hilarious Viviane Holmberg as Frasquita—she brought the character role in opera to a level of commedia dell’arte brilliance, a mix of sublime voice and spastic physicality.
The writer in me is thoroughly gratified to be here in Södermalm (the formerly blue collar neighborhood of Stockholm turned Meatpacking trendy) this week as Stieg Larsson’s fourth installment of his Millenium series (you know the first three, starting with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, was released). Well, released in Swedish. Us English-speaking devotees will have to wait until September 1st. The book comes loaded with controversy as Larsson passed before finishing it. A well-known chain smoker and junk food-addict, Larsson died climbing the stairs to his office—heart attack—right above the coffee shop where I’m writing this blog. He wrote much of the trilogy on the stool I’m sitting on, just to the left of the door. I’ve skipped the pastry today. And I’ll be taking the elevator.
Fika v. Swedish. To have coffee, generally accompanied by a pastry, while socializing.
The book is fourth of an outlined ten; Larsson had written the beginning and end though the middle section was largely unfinished, all existing bits encrypted on his personal laptop in the possession of his girlfriend and domestic partner. The fourth book, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, was written without Swedish author David Lagercrantz ever having seen any of it. He wasn’t allowed, following a bitter battle over legal rights between domestic partner and Larsson’s greedy brother and father, in Swedish courts. Lagercrantz is quite an accomplished writer in his own right, and reviews have been more-or-less favorable both yesterday and today. Shame, though; I’d much rather read Larsson’s intended continuation of the Lisbeth Salander adventures.