Wednesday, March 10, 2010


(Peter Rose as Falstaff/Seattle Opera 2010/Rosarli Lynch Photo)

Falstaff is Verdi’s last opera, his great masterpiece, and a comedy no less.

I had the joy of experiencing Seattle Opera’s performance of this fun work last Saturday night. What a treat! .

Melody after melody, keeping us musically filled to the brim. Short and quick essences of beauty, coming and going at lightning speed. As one opera lecturer told us, “No scene lingers too long, the secret of comedy.”

Some of my favorite scenes:

General Director Speight Jenkins walking across the stage with his dog, greeting the singers as they were preparing to take on their roles.

A mountain of chairs hanging from the sky, for a reason I never really understood, yet knew was whimsical fun.

Falstaff becoming Falstaff and having a ball in the process, using his considerable girth for slap stick humor. Peter Rose played the fat jolly knight so well, from beginning to end, as he transformed into his character and back again.

An usher told me he had never seen so much fun at an opera. Tragedy. Death. Betrayal. He’s seen it all. But this comedy was the best.

I left the opera house with the music of the lovers running through my head, the only repetition of music in the entire score, because you know opera has to be about love. I woke up the next morning chuckling along with Falstaff’s merry spirit .

The show begins and ends with the performers whooping it up while getting their costumes on. One flamboyant tenor, sporting boxer shorts with bright red hearts, struts his stuff. One very large soprano, in skintight black undergarments, strolls the stage in nonchalant ease. They completely embodied the idea of poking fun at themselves. At the end of the opera they start undressing again, walking off the stage in everyday clothes, or only half dressed. It was a real parody on the high art of opera.

When a well known over-large diva takes her bow in undergarments, it’s an extraordinary example of being able to laugh at yourself. Bravo Stephanie Blythe!

Director Peter Kazaras did a brillant thing. Unconventional but brillant. It’s one of the many things I love about Seattle Opera. They’re not afraid to be inventive with the masterpieces of the past, creating respectful innovations that make opera really fun.

Even Falstaff’s character is one I respect. Though he’s repeatedly made a fool of, he can laugh at himself in the end. In contrast Ford, the over jealous husband, never really learns to lighten up.

The last lines of Verdi’s last opera are “We are all fools. Let’s laugh at ourselves.” It’s his final statement to the world. At age 80, he had learned fully about life. His legacy of wisdom was to see the absurdity of it all, and laugh.

This comes from a man known for his intensity and his melancholy; A man who wrote operas to the most gruesome and heart wrenching stories; A man celebrated as a national hero. Yet his wisdom in the end is “ Laugh at yourself. Laugh at it all.”

“Tutto nel mondo e burla.” “All the world is a joke.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Yu-Na Kim

When someone as special as Yu-Na Kim comes along, everyone wants a piece of her. Like the rest of the world, I’m taken, completely captivated by her excellence, by her championship, by her humility, by her grace, by her performances. But my blog is about laughter, so what can I say?

Well, there is something her coach Brian Orser said. When asked what he liked best about her, his answer was “her sense of humor”. So there you have it again, greatness coupled with a fantastic sense of humor.

And there is another thing her choreographer David Wilson said. He explains that when Yu-Na first came to him, she was wanting to become a "happy skater". Clearly it worked.

Yu-Na Kim, you’re one very special being.

Funeral Laughter

The priest began with a joke and he ended with a joke. So it was the same joke, that’s okay. It was a good one, one we could all relate to about the deceased loved one, one that was lovingly respectful.

I attended the funeral of an acquaintance last week. I appreciated the priest’s engaging Irish accent, his heartfelt words, and his not-too-much and not-too-little sprinkling of humor throughout the sermon.

Funerals have come such a long way. Most everyone understands the need for humor, especially at a time of such intense emotions as grief and loss. I remember my father’s funeral long long ago in 1964. There were no jokes, no laughing, no humor. Catholic priests back then didn’t even speak English. Remember those masses in Latin?

Now when people get up and share their stories and memories of the lost person, we love those stories that make us laugh. It eases the tension and sparks the best memories.

Funerals have come a long way indeed.

Photo: Stock.xchnge