Saturday, November 1, 2008

Jose Carreras in Miaoli

The Miaoli County government (in Taiwan, where I am living), invited the famous tenor Jose Carreras to perform last night at the Miaoli Stadium. I had never seen the man's face until it was all over the main roads on banners. "County Head Liu's name is almost as big as Carreras', commented my wife acidly when she saw the banners.

My father in law got some tickets for us from some nice subdistrict leaders he knows through his work in the town office. I drove my wife, mother-in-law, and cousin-in-law (is this a term?), and we met my friend Brian, who took the train down from Hsinchu. We had some laughs driving over. I practiced cursing out slow drivers in Taiwanese with the term "seh-gu," or dawdling turtle, which made everyone laugh. "You sound like you are selling turtles," said Sara.

The stadium was, as is usual in these affairs, set up for maximum inconvenience for all the 30,000 non-VIPs. One long, long line stretched out away from the stadium. After walking for 10 minutes to find the end, we gave up and sat near the entrance with a lot of other people. I went to fetch cheap corn-dogs for us, as well as some stinky tofu for mom -- without knowing she hates the stuff. Worse, I spilled the oily sauce all over my nice clean dress pants. The corn dogs were warm, sweet, soft -- like a fresh donut with a hot dog inside. Yum.

When Brian arrived he insisted we could enter anywhere we wanted without tickets, and showed us the trick. But I think the police just didn't want to speak English. We found another, unused, gate and walked through -- while the main gate was slowly processing all the second-level spectators. It was starting as we climbed up and found seats from which we could just see the very tip of the stage and a severely foreshortened screen. We could hear the massive voice but barely see anything.

Near the end we moved over another entrance to where we could see. The voices, of Carreras and the soprano, were amazing. Especially the woman's. It was too bad we were given no song titles, or notes on the story background for each song. How odd it was to be hearing this peculiar Italian invention, full of rolled "R"s, open air in Taiwan with thousands of rapt spectators. How odd too at this man's god-like status, cloistered from ordinary life, his voice a virtual global treasure or protected anatomical heritage site. He stood back from the front of the stage, movements spare, only a slight bow and a raised hand at the applause. He himself was slight, with a wattle under his chin which I could see working when he paused, swallowing.

But I was glad for this strange cloistering and worshipping, which he has used to good effect, husbanding his strength into his 60s or 70s. This cloister-effect of media superstardom brought him to Miaoli stadium, for us to see, bathing in his voice's rich tones.

The audience was a bit unsure, a bit reserved. A host had to come out at the end to lead them in a chant of "encore" for them to call out for more. And they did come out, to our delight. Even not knowing the words, hearing them sing was to soak in an alienness, a beautiful, distant strangeness.

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