This was it, Friday, the first day of three glorious days in Honolulu. It was my first school fieldtrip in years, and this one would be focused on art and all things cultured. We were staying right downtown at the Ala Moana Hotel. I liked the hotel immediately. It had the nerve to admit there was a thirteenth floor in their hotel, and in fact, we were on it. And I saw my first person in a business suit since I moved to the islands, down in the lobby. I think we might be on a different planet, not just a different island.
The itinerary said, “Change for dinner and the opera” – magical words. When was the last time I dressed for dinner? Could be decades ago! Went to an opera? Do you count Andrew Lloyd Webber? The schedule was tight but we made it to Buca di Beppo by our reservation time, 6:30 pm.
Buca di Beppo, in the Ward Entertainment Center, is an Italian restaurant. It has the usual pictures of Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack. But it also had maps, pictures of popes, Sofia Loren taking her nylons off (not in the same room with the popes), and all things Italian. In fact, as I walked to the bathroom, I saw a waiter taking a bust of Pope Benedict down the hallway – must be making room for the new pope.
Our hostess took us to our table by way of the kitchen, where everyone greeted us. As we snaked through the labyrinth of hallways to the room with our table, every waiter we passed said “welcome” with a big smile. The class of ten students plus the teacher and I settled around the table. We were hungry.
We had an interesting discussion as we decided what to order – the food is served family style. Jade and I couldn’t have meat.
No meat? Why? “Because we are Catholic.”
Catholics don’t eat meat? “Not during Lent.”
You don’t eat meat during Lent? “That’s only on Fridays and Ash Wednesday.”
So you are real Catholics. “Uh, yes.”
Then there was the vegetarian contingent. While the Catholics could eat seafood, the vegetarians did not. The two outnumbered boys on the fieldtrip were looking nervous – would there be enough to eat; would there be meat?
We settled on two large salads (one plain), and three entrées, one with sausage, one with shrimp, and one vegetarian. The bread was warm, the salads were fresh, and the entrées were plentiful and tasty. Despite our best intentions, we couldn’t finish it all, and the waiter talked us into talking the rest with us for an after-opera snack. I think the guys took the remains to their room.
Then we hurried to the opera at Blaisdell Symphony Hall. I’ve heard so much about this place. Men in suits and tuxedos (this is a different planet) and women in their finest gowns and dresses talked animatedly on the portico, champagne glasses in hand for opening night. It is amazing how many people think nothing of hopping a plane to see a performance here, but that’s what you have to do when you live on a Neighbor Island.
Tonight we were seeing Dialogues of the Carmelites by Poulenc. The sparseness of the audience should have told us something; that, and the fact that we were able to get good seats fairly close up front.
I can’t say that I’d heard of Poulenc before, so I Googled this opera earlier in the week. The French composer does insist that the opera be sung in the language of the audience. That’s good. But it is about a convent of nuns during the French Revolution who are guillotined in the final act. I found a segment of it on U-tube. The audience does not actually see the nuns beheaded, but the music is suddenly stopped by a “kerchunk” sound for each nun. Hmmm.
I was worried about Jade. She doesn’t even like the sight of her own blood – squeamish to the max. So I made a point of warning her. She didn’t seem fazed earlier in the week – too busy with math to digest it.
The set was stark, the costumes were stark, and all the nuns dressed alike. There was more sung dialog than arias or songs. In fact, the whole first act was sung dialog. Okay, I’ll be blunt; I didn’t like it. It was three hours of drama sung in sentence-long bites back and forth. Too much of it was accusatory sing-shouting.
During the first intermission, the students warily asked for my impressions. I didn’t want to influence them, so I dodged the question. They politely said that the orchestra was good. Nice answer. As the lights flashed on and off in the foyer, we slowly made our way back in for Act 2. At least it showcased the nuns singing a couple of Latin hymns in beautiful harmonies. To the ear of someone hearing Mass in Latin for years (me), it was beautiful. The younger crowd yawned.
The audience thinned out during the second intermission. Jade was now clearly nervous. Not to drag this narrative out, she escaped to the foyer about 15 minutes into the third act. The rest of us slogged it out.
It felt good to step out from the concert hall into the night air. Honolulu high-rises stood out against the darkness with dramatic columns of light from their windows. I guess they don’t have to worry about light pollution here the way we do with our observatories on the Big Island.
The ride to the hotel was silent. Of course we were all tired after a long day…We breathed a sigh of relief as we reached the thirteenth floor, closed the door to our room, and fell into bed.
For more essays on Honolulu and things to see there, see:
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