Zhen Li wrote:
kirtu wrote:I was a supernumerary in several operas at the Kennedy Center in DC for the Washington Opera - this naturally affected my opinion
That sounds like a fun job. Did it affect your opinion for the better or worse?
I had to be talked into it by a friend who acted as a supernumerary for the Washington Opera and who was interested in German. The Deutsche Oper Berlin brought Goetz Frederick's famous "Time Tunnel" Ring cycle to DC in 1989. My friend had the idea that it might be helpful to have a couple of German speaking Americans in the opera. He took me to what I thought were auditions but were in fact immediate blocking and staging by the director. The supernumerary manager for the Washington Opera had already said that I couldn't perform as she had a list of alternate supernumeraries and I'd have to do a real audition, etc. She had called all the supernumeraries present and anyway a supernumerary is a real position in German opera. The Deutsche Oper Berlin was letting DC supernumeraries in their production and only had a couple of German supernumeraries (who were in fact directorial/staging apprentices). On my way out I had to cross the large rehearsal room to get my gym bag. Half-way across the room the director grabbed me and began blocking. I was there for two hours. He was not a man that you could easily interrupt to explain that I wasn't supposed to be there. We explained the problem to the same Washington Opera director and she said "If he blocked you then you're in." So that was my direct exposure to opera (but not theater - I had acted and won an award for a small German-American theater in Nuernberg). As it turned out my friend's intuition was correct: In Goetterdaemmerung the actor playing Siegfried fell wrong so consequently the blocking was off for the funeral bearers. I was one of the four funeral bearers and the only American. All three German guys reacted negatively to this event and the head of the team (who did minor staging himself during the performance) had seconds to give us changed directions. He began in English (which I thought odd as away from the opera I took at least two of the team including him out to clubs and we almost only spoke German) and then immediately changed to German. Then we executed the changes flawlessly. They complimented me at the end because this was a real problem - any errors on stage can clearly be seen in the audience - and they were professionals and I wasn't. Later I realized the director had grabbed me at the initial rehearsal because I was the same height and age and had the same look as the other funeral bearers and this was the first thing he blocked. The older friends of mine were in the audience and commented on the fact that we looked alike. And carrying a 200+ lbs person offstage on our shoulders without looking silly, we pretty much have to be the same height.
I was in many operas after that my last being in the late 90's (2-3 a year or so). Then the Dot Com boom and bust took all my attention.
I'm still not a fan of opera music itself. But it works with the setting and drama in a way that other forms of singing or poetic delivery cannot. So my experience as a supernumerary affected my view of opera positively. And most of the time it was fun (although getting yelled at by a director occasionally or a chorus member who is also performing when things aren't going well in rehearsal is not).
Contemporary opera in particular has opened some real possibilities. While we can read Feynman and Openheimer and others for the drama of the first atomic bomb test, or watch excellent movies (Infinity for example) these do not draw people in sufficiently and often fail to completely transform the observer into a participant as an opera like "Doctor Atomic" can. To me opera also seems to provide a rarely matched vehicle for moral analysis.
So the idea of Buddhist opera is not so far fetched. It was just surprising that the first example (after Ashvaghosha, who's works after all were not and could not have been operatic) was Wagner. I agree that this needs to be given some consideration. There are unique theatrical forms found in many cultures: Noh and Kabuki in Japan, Chinese opera, there's a kind of unique Korean theater which is sung poetry with traditional Korean music, etc. These expressions may be more or less a fundamental expression of the underlying patterns of thought and experience of a particular culture rather than just learned forms.