Last night, Scott and I went to the opera with some friends. Neither of us is an opera buff by any stretch of the imagination (the last opera I saw was Aida when I was in Egypt in 2002!), but it sounded like a fun and interesting experience. Plus, Astana has an impressive opera house, and we had been thinking for some time that we should see something there.
We saw La Traviata. I looked up a synopsis of the plot online before we went, which gave me at least a vague idea of what was going on. The singing was in Italian, which I expected. There was a screen above the stage with translations in Russian and Kazakh (I'm thinking I can't really call this subtitling since it was above the stage?), but I couldn't do more than catch an occasional Russian word that way. With the language barrier in place, I decided to become absorbed by the set and the costumes. I was fascinated with the set. They had a series of large cloths on the floor of the stage, and a large mirrored panel that was angled to reflect the designs on them. This had the effect of showing the audience both the design on the cloth and the actors and actresses at different angles. When they needed a new set, they just retracted the cloth on top and the next one in the pile was reflected by the mirrored panel.
A couple of cultural observations on the evening: The powers that be at the opera house were absolutely insistent upon everyone checking their coats. Scott and I were reluctant to do so, for fear of an unruly, pushy mob at the coat check and a late night when we had to teach at 9 AM the next day. However, the pleasant surprise was that coat collection was actually orderly and efficient after the performance. Kudos to the opera house for creating order out of a task that could easily be prohibitively annoying!
Another observation relates to cameras. At performances in the US, I'm used to someone making an announcement about how use of cameras is prohibited. Here, no announcements of any kind were made, and some people in the audience used their cameras with what I found to be somewhat distressing lack of inhibition. Toward the end of the performance, the large paneled mirror that had been used to reflect the set was slowly moved to first reflect the pit orchestra, and then the audience. This had the effect of showing us the reflections of the camera flashes from the audience. I was hoping after the first time that happened that people would be too embarrassed to keep taking photos, but no such luck. I decided to laugh rather than cry.
Speaking of which, here are some pictures (but not of the performance!):