Last week I was excited to go to Oslo for a quick trip. I woke up early on the day that my train was scheduled to depart and rode the bus down to Trondheim’s Central Station. In calculating what bus I should take I relied on the bus system’s website to help me pick a bus that would get me to the station about 10 minutes ahead of time. What I hadn’t counted on was the early morning rush and its effect on traffic. By the time my bus actually pulled into the station my train was due to depart and I ran (and may have also aggressively pushed and shoved) until I got to my platform. There was no train.
But it turns out all was not lost! Apparently the train was delayed by an hour so there was really no need for me to run or have a panic attack over missing the train. When the train finally did pull into the station, I gratefully sank into my seat and settled in for the 6.5 hour journey. It was another lovely train trip. I’m pretty much convinced at this point that ugly train rides don’t exist in Norway.
Since I did have a long train ride I was able to check out the transportation system in Oslo before I arrived. It’s incredibly similar to the way the system works in Trondheim. In both cities, there are two main apps that you can use on your smartphone to help you navigate. In Trondheim they are: AtB Reise and AtB Mobillett (in case you were wondering AtB is short for “from A to B”). In Oslo, the apps are RuterReise and RuterBillett. AtB Reise and RuterReise will give you a map of the available bus/tram stops and will help you plan a route to your intended destination. AtB Mobillett and RuterBillett help you actually purchase public transportation tickets.
One of this year’s Roving Scholars, Lud, happens to have a guest room in his apartment and graciously allowed me to stay with him while I was in Oslo. So, my first action item after getting off the train was to actually get to Lud’s home. Thankfully Lud provided me with excellent directions and I was able to take the tram over. The thing that surprised me with the transportation system in Oslo is that no one seems to actually check your tickets. I was quite surprised that most people simply got on and sat down. It was a bit strange to be in such a trusting environment.
After a delicious dinner with Lud and quite a bit of catching up, the two of us grabbed the tram back down to the city center. Our destination: the Oslo Opera House. I loved my last trip to the Opera House and was excited to go again, this time to watch Don Giovanni. In the tradition of most Asian kids I played piano growing up and have listened to the Don Giovanni Overture many many times. I was excited to put this piece of music in context as well as to experience such a famous piece of opera.
There is a good summary of Don Giovanni done by the Met Opera but it can more or less be summarized by saying that Don Giovanni is a womanizer who pisses off everyone in the opera before being dragged into hell after refusing to repent for his sins. I would say that the opera revolves around appetites–hunger for food, women, respect, and depending on the character, redemption.
The first thing that Lud and I really noticed about the opera was how even though the set appeared to be depicting an older time period, all of the costumes that the characters wore were quite modern. In fact, at one point in the opera Zerlina pretends to talk to Masetto on her cell phone. While it was interesting to see Don Giovanni set in a more modern day context, it did sacrifice one significant point of the plot–you really struggled to understand or see the huge class difference between Don Giovanni and the other characters. While class does not come up too much in the actual libretto, understanding Don Giovanni’s social position is an important part of understanding his appeal and his dominance over the other characters.
I was also surprised at the way sex was portrayed in the opera. I was expecting the men to more or less dominate over their female counterparts, and the plot synopses that I read beforehand made me think that the women were meant to be gullible, docile, and dependent. This was not the power dynamic that I witnessed. Anna clearly is the master of Ottavio, who more or less follows her around like a lost puppy, but I think Zerlina proves to be the most interesting female character. Her physical attraction to Don Giovanni is made very explicit in the opera, and in this particular relationship she tends to play the victim. The innocent woman who is unable to resist Don Giovanni’s charms. Things are very different in her relationship with Masetto. Although Zerlina lets Masetto, her fiancé, be physically abusive, it is also clear that it is Zerlina who holds the power in the relationship. Instead of playing the victim, Zerlina uses sex as a way to formalize her dominance in the relationship. After her daliance with Don Giovanni, Zerlina manages to reconcile with Masetto after she essentially gives him a lap dance. Additionally, Zerlina secures Masetto’s trust after she tells him that she’s pregnant with his child. Zerlina proves an excellent example of how the women in the opera are able to use sex to their advantage as opposed to their disadvantage.
On a separate note, I was surprised by how much Don Giovanni is a comedy. I was expecting the opera to be a drama with a clear moral running throughout, which don’t get me wrong this is true, but there are also many small instances of humor, particularly surrounding the figure of Leporello. One his funnier moments emerges when he and Don Giovanni are exchanging outfits. Don Giovanni manages to hide behind the door to a confessional while Leporello hides behind two paintings. When Leporello has to pick up some clothing from Don Giovanni he takes one of the paintings to hide his nudity, only realizing a few seconds into his walk that it is a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Realizing that these holy figures are inspecting his nether regions a bit too closely, he giggles before turning the painting around to face the audience.
While I found Don Giovanni enjoyable, I definitely preferred Madame Butterfly. Don Giovanni has a much more complex plot, which is not helped when many of these characters are on stage at the same time. As an audience member, it can be difficult to figure out which characters you should be focusing on at any one point in time. Additionally, the singing in Madame Butterfly was much better. While Lud and I really enjoyed listening to Don Giovanni, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, it was pretty clear that he was by far and away the best singer on stage.
Pictures below from the Oslo Opera House’s website.