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Trip to opera a multicultural answer to riddle

February 27, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

I'd heard two things about opera, one that it's better than it sounds, and two, that it is unfair to pass judgment on the sport until you have actually seen a live performance.

Opera is one of those items that you have to learn to "appreciate," along the lines of cigars, caviar, wine, modern art and Simon Cowell. "Appreciate" is one of those words that goes with "fine." Like scotch. They have to call it a "fine scotch" so you can tell it from Listerine.

In my book, if you like something you shouldn't have to ask why. If enjoyment is contingent upon an explanation, it raises red flags.

Think back to the first time you had a french fry. You didn't need some fat critic in a cardigan with too much hair on his chin and not enough on his dome sitting by your side to tell you why it was good.

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But be that as it may, we tenored off to the Kennedy Center last weekend to see "Turandot," an opera about a chick who asks her suitors three riddles and then kills them if they get it wrong.

This seemed relatively consistent with what I know about female behavior, so I was able to buy into the plot. (If you're scoring at home, that joke was ruled a stumble, not a fall).

I'll also give it an A for multiculturalism. We were a band of Americans watching a band of Russians singing in Italian and pretending to be Chinese. We were one Tanzanian shy of being able to convene an emergency meeting on the U.N. Security Council.

So anyway, along comes a stranger, in town on business I suppose, who instantly falls for this woman who has coldly sent thousands of men to their deaths and declares himself up for the brain teasers.

At this point, he knows one thing about Turandot's personality, that being she is a heartless slaughterer. So you can see the attraction. In searching for my own true love, I might look for a lady without quite so many scalps on her resume, but that's just me.

Or maybe it's not, because the court ministers spend about three hours trying to talk him out of it, singing away a gripping dialogue that basically goes, "Are you sure you want to do this?" "Yes, I'm sure." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure."

Being one of the quicker members of the audience, I was beginning to get the point, when the ministers relent and - no one saw this coming - he successfully solves the riddles.

But is this good enough for Turandot? Oh, no. She immediately starts looking for ways to void the contract. At this point, we know two things about this Chinese Lizzie Borden, she's a murderer AND a liar. I'm thinking this is a marriage that would require some serious counseling. If you are married to Turandot, you DEFINITELY do not want to leave the toilet seat up. But the stranger persists and even gives the woman an out: If she can guess his name, not only is the deal off, but she can kill him in the bargain.

For Turandot, this gets the old murderous juices flowing and she tells the townsfolk she will kill them all if they do not figure out the chap's name by dawn. Since the story is set in Beijing, population 14,930,000, this is something I'm interested in seeing.

Unfortunately, it never comes to that because the idiot tells her his name himself. But the strategy works, possibly because only a woman that venomous could want a man that stupid. Probably she senses it will be easy to stick him with all the household chores, so she relents and everything's cool in the end.

In truth, it was quite colorful and entertaining and I enjoyed it in spite of myself. However, I do have a minor suggestion. Blame Hollywood for setting the standard, but forgetting everything else, I have serious trouble buying into a love story when the participants are all upwards of 250 pounds.

Dude is promising to die a thousand deaths for his "fair and fragrant lily," which makes me think he must have smelled her before he saw her. In retrospect, she didn't make any substantial appearance until well into the second act, and there may have been good reason.

I can't help but think once he got sight of this lily bearing down on him like a cornered moose he might have been willing to subtract a death or two from the sum total.

But then again, all he had to do was love her; he didn't have to appreciate her.

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