2018 年 10 月，我開始了在柏林洪堡大學（Humboldt University of Berlin）的訪問學者生涯。當時我下定決心一定要走訪柏林所有古典音樂廳，舉世聞名的柏林國立歌劇院便是其一。
首先，我必須承認 —— 雖然我是個古典音樂狂熱愛好者，但卻不太喜歡歌劇。我總覺得歌劇極度沉悶（且浪費時間），只要在失眠時，它才會大派用場。通常當歌劇一奏起，我就能以最快的速度進入夢鄉。
我的一位學術同事是名歌劇超級粉絲，她買了 4 張在不同日子的門票，準備在柏林國立歌劇院觀看莫札特甚受歡迎的喜歌劇「費加洛的婚禮」4 次。可惜的是，她因為突如其來的工作而無法觀演，並決定將門票都給我。正因我對這所傳奇歌劇院充滿興趣，再加上得悉這 4 張門票不同的性質，便接受了她的好意。
柏林國立歌劇院的門票分為 4 種：堂座（Parkett）、高堂座（I. Rang）、樓座（II. Rang）及高座（III. Rang）。堂座與高堂座的門票價格貴得驚人，樓座則相對合理，而高座更價格廉宜。我的同事給我的 4 張門票皆屬不同種類，意味著我將會從不同角度體驗這 4 場歌劇表演。首兩場表演我皆坐在豪華的堂座及高堂座，第三次坐樓座，最後一次則坐高座。
看完 4 場表演，以下是我的觀察所得：
一如我的想像，前排豪華座位坐滿打扮端莊、受過優秀教育的紳士與女士。這些男女大約 6、70 歲，男人都穿著西裝，女士則穿上優雅、熠熠生輝的禮服裙，並綴以鑽飾與珠寶，以彰顯自己的社會地位。他們打扮得像要出席婚禮般，正好配合了歌劇的主題 ——「費加洛的婚禮」。作為堂座唯一一位身穿休閒服裝的人，實在有理由相信我是在堂座當中最窮的人。表演開始時，這些觀眾展示出極致的專注，專注得像沒有眨過一下眼睛一樣。主角數次唱出由衷的詠嘆後，大部分人更在抹走眼睛上的淚。毫無疑問，他們絕對在陶醉於表演之中。
情況如同堂座般。你不難發現一些政治人物或著名企業家。事實上，他們就像 18 世紀這齣歌劇初演時，那些尊貴的皇室貴族。
坐在高座的每一個都是青少年，從我的觀察看來，他們當中並沒有一個對歌劇有任何興趣。事實上，我並不明白他們在歌劇院到底在幹甚麼。大部分人都在玩電話 —— 傳短訊、用社交網站，有人甚至在網購和用交友程式。手機熒幕的光線實在擾人，但至少他們幾乎沒有製造半點噪音，皆因所有電話都調至靜音模式，欲與朋友交談時，他們選擇互相傳短訊予對方，以表情符號和動態圖像表達自己「被困」歌劇院的沮喪。
你或會感到疑惑，我明明說過歌劇音樂絕對會將我直接帶入夢鄉，那我怎會能在表演期間觀察歌劇院裡的眾生相呢？你或者不相信，這次我不但沒有在任何一場表演中睡著，我還異常地享受這 4 場歌劇表演。對於我在柏林突然愛上歌劇，我想唯一的解釋是 —— 我在其他地方看過的歌劇實在太過平庸，肯定破壞了我對歌劇的興趣和胃口！
The Berlin State Opera
When I began my visiting scholar tenure at the Humboldt University of Berlin in October 2018, I was determined to visit all the classical music establishments in the German capital. One of these establishments was the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (The Berlin State Opera), which has always been considered as a leading opera house in the world.
Before I say anything else, I must admit that – despite being a classical music aficionado – I am no big fan of the opera. I find operas incredibly boring (and time-consuming) and believe that they are only useful when I have an insomnia. Usually, I fall asleep as soon as any operatic music is played.
An academic colleague of mine is a huge opera fan, and has bought four tickets to the four performances of the Staatsoper’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s famous comic opera – The Marriage of Figaro. However, due to sudden work commitments, she could no longer attend these four performances and gave her tickets to me. Since I was keen to visit this legendary opera house, I accepted her kind offer, especially after I realised the interesting nature of the four tickets.
Allow me to explain. The Staatsoper has four levels: Parkett (commonly known in English as the orchestra stalls), I. Rang (stalls circle), II. Rang (grand tier) and III. Rang (balcony). The tickets in the first two categories are ridiculously expensive, the tickets in the third category are reasonably priced while the tickets in the last category are rather cheap. The four tickets that I was given were all on a different level, which means that I got to experience this opera four times, each from a vastly different seat. I was in the posh seats for the first two performances, the ordinary seats for the third performance, and the cheap seats for the final performance.
And here are my observations from each level:
Parkett (orchestra stalls)
Unsurprisingly, these posh seats were all occupied by distinguished-looking, learned and sophisticated gentlemen and ladies that were mostly in their 60s or 70s. The men were mostly in lounge suits (in fact, they all looked like they were about to attend a wedding – how fitting, since the opera was called ‘The Marriage of Figaro‘), and the ladies in elegant, shining and flamboyant dresses, embellished with diamonds and jewelries, in a bid to underline and justify their social status. As the only patron in smart casual, it was logical to assume that I was definitely the poorest man in the stalls that day. These audiences demonstrated utmost concentration when listening to the performance, and it seemed that their eyes had never blinked once. I could see a number of them even mouthing the libretto along with the singers, as well as swaying their bodies in the rhythm of the music. After several heartfelt arias sung by the protagonists, a large number of them were even wiping tears off their eyes. There was not a shadow of a doubt how much they had immersed themselves into the performance.
I. Rang (stalls circle)
Just the same as the above. Several notable politicians and industry leaders could be spotted. Indeed, they were comparable to the aristocrats, nobilities and royalties of the 18th Century, which was when this opera was first performed.
II. Rang (Grand Tier)
This level was filled with the middle-aged and the middle-class population. Most of the audiences were couples, and it was very evident that while the wives were being dazzled by the performers and indulged by the delightful music, the husbands were mostly deep asleep, some resting their heads on their wives’ shoulders, some drooling and some even snoring lightly, which led to their wives shoving them and looking around with an embarrassing and apologetic face. Several more elderly ladies were using binoculars to view the performance clearer. I must admit that I have forgotten this invention and was pleased to be reminded of its existence.
III. Rang (Balcony)
Only two words can appropriately describe the happenings on this level. Chaos. Circus.
Literally every single one of the audiences was either youngster or a teenager and none of them, as far as I was concerned, had any interest in the opera. In fact, I couldn’t understand why they were there in the first place. Most of them were on their smartphones texting, messaging, twitting, and I could even see some on Tinder and eBay. The brightness from the screens were disturbing, but I was impressed that at least these young people did not even make one sound. Every phone was on silent mode and instead of talking with their friends, they were texting one another, conveying their frustration of being in the opera house with emojis and GIFs.
After the performance, I politely asked those youngsters why they were there, given none of them paid any attention during the performance. Turned out that they were all high school students from abroad spending several weeks in Germany. It was required of them to attend an opera and write a concert report afterwards. A particularly arrogant boy even informed me authoritatively that ‘We were required to attend an opera, but not to listen to or appreciate the opera’. Furthermore, some even told me that they did not know who Mozart was… Having heard all these, I couldn’t help but to worry about the future of classical music…
You may wonder how I managed to observe all these fascinating aspects in the opera house, since I said earlier that any operatic music would send me to sleep straightaway. Well, believe it or not, I not only stayed awake in all four performances, but I actually also enjoyed them tremendously. The only reason I could think of – in explaining my sudden appreciation of the opera in Berlin – was that I must have been exposed to too many mediocre operatic performances elsewhere, which certainly have damaged my interest and appetite of this musical genre.