nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,

Don Giovanni! I am here to give you therapy, or, Opera in the Nexus

I had a very enjoyable evening on Sunday at the Royal Opera House in the company of [personal profile] antisoppist. We saw Puccini's La Rondine, which before seeing it I had mistakenly believed was his sole comedy*. It has twenties costumes, nice tunes, and Angela Gheorghiu, who I had never seen before.

On my return home, while waiting for the open window to cool my furnace-like bedroom sufficiently for me to get to sleep, the Penguin Opera Guide informed me that it was not, as I had assumed, based on La Ronde** and so all the characters would sort themselves out with the right people in the end. This was not the case. The eponymous La Rondine is a metaphorical swallow, and the plot is basically La Traviata-lite, with everyone unhappy because they are incapable of having sensible conversations.

Which led me to think of what operas would be like if people really did behave sensibly, and by a series of leaps, to the culture of opera on various planets in Lois McMaster Bujold's Nexus.

At the time in which the Vorkosigan novels are set, Barrayar can rightly claim the most vibrant opera scene in the known worlds. That the reader doesn't know this from the novels can be put down to Aral not having been to the theatre for 50 years without it being for political purposes, and Miles being culturally illiterate***. The reasons for this are as follows. The colonists took with them, along with many other things, a rich library of earth's musical tradition. During the Time of Isolation they were able to maintain the technology required for pre-C20 musical performance, albeit with some restrictions. While opera and the Classical tradition functioned initially as a source of connection to the colonists' galactic heritage, the hardships soon lead to the development of a native tradition. The tendency of Barrayaran history towards melodrama naturally suited the medium. By the time Barrayar rejoined galactic civilization, it had amassed a large new repetoire. Barrayaran composers seized with enthusiasm upon the new instruments and resources that opened to them, while galactic enthusiasts took up existing works such as the immense Vothalia Cycle. The sub-genre of all-male opera performed by military groups was greatly welcomed, to the horror of the Barrayarans, by the planet Athos. Opera remains a major Barrayaran export, responsible for a goodly share of its foreign exchange.

Cetaganda naturally practices opera as it does all arts. Standards are said to be overwhelming, and the singers are able to modulate their pitch to resonate precisely within the skull of the highest-ranking official present. No-one from off-planet has ever seen a full performance, although the local diplomats are treated, if that is the word, to an annual festival of highlights aimed at their inevitably low-brow taste.

Famed for its revivals of classic productions, it produces marvellous new singers (attributed to humans having evolved in the particular atmosphere) who leave to command fantastic fees elsewhere.

Jackson's Whole
Famous for their castrati.

Beta Colony
Opera on Beta can be divided broadly into two camps. The first focusses on authentic cultural performances as close as possible to the original productions. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has nothing on these musicians, who will eat a C18 diet for a month before playing Mozart. They are very popular with tourists. The second adheres more to the Betan cultural mainstream. This involves the production of modern Betan pieces, and galactic classics for which the plots are altered to suit the Betan audience. These also attract tourists, but for different reasons. A famous example is the Betan La Traviata, which tells the story of Violetta, a LPST who begins a relationship with Lord Alfredo Vorgermont, a member of the Barrayaran ambassador's entourage. She encourages him to overcome his primitive conditioning and teaches him the delights of sex in a Betan partnership. In act II, the Barrayaran ambassador, angry that Alfredo is encouraging all his staff to visiting the Orb of Unearthly Delights and turn from Barrayaran morality, writes to Count Vorgermont to tell him of his son's behaviour. Horrified, Vorgermont confronts Violetta, appealing to her to see that she is ruining his eldest daughter's chances of marriage. Violetta tells him that this is not the case, because there are so few Vor ladies of marriagable age, and that she will not leave Alfredo. She tells Alfredo that the choice is his - her, Vorgermont, or neither. Alfredo chooses Violetta. Act III takes place a year later. Alfredo is still with Violetta on Beta Colony. He receives word that his now-married sister, Julietta, has arrived with her father for galactic medical treatment, after a body-birth has almost killed her. Count Vorgermont confesses that he fought a duel with Julietta's husband, because he would not permit the use of a uterine replicator. He apologises to Violetta and asks her to forgive him. In future, he will ensure all his daughters' marriage contracts stipulate the use of a replicator. Violetta forgives Vorgermont, and offers to introduce him to a LPST colleague to counsel him and the Countess. The performance ends with a chorus in praise of healthy sex.

ETA: I had forgotten when writing this that there is a Russian fan-produced Vorkosigan rock opera. It turns out that it is on YouTube. I may have to listen.

* No-one actually dies, so for Puccini it almost is comedy. I am going to see The Girl of the Golden West next year, in which not only does no-one dies, but the lovers end up happily together. Clearly Puccini was having an off-day when he wrote it.

** Note to [personal profile] antisoppist the POG tells me it was originally intended as a Viennese operetta, hence the slight Lehar-ness.

*** While a keen fan of historic holovids, Miles seems strikingly uninterested otherwise in art, music, and fiction.
Tags: fandom corrupts the mind, opera, vorkosigan fic
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