Monday, September 22, 2008

A Night at the (Nigerian) Opera

Friday night I attended a concert at the Hilton in tribute to Luciano Pavorotti.  It was sponsored by the Italian Embassy and much of the opera music was Italian, but that is where the Italian in the performance ended.  The choir, the tenors, the orchestra, the conductor, were all Nigerian (except for one violinist and the opening pianist who were Asian).  Nigeria has some amazing opera singers.  Who knew?

The room was too dark for my little camera to take any decent pictures.

The Concert
When the opening piano started, I was a bit worried.  It was choppy and the girl seemed to be struggling.  As the orchestra joined in, I feared the night would turn out to be like a high school band concert.  But my fears were horribly misplaced.  The night quickly became one of the most amazing I've had in Nigeria.

The Metropolitan Chorale Abuja stood.  Dressed in black suits with white shirts and burgundy or gold scarves.  The Lagos City Chamber Orchestra, in the traditional orchestra white and black with bowties, raised their instruments.  The feature tenor, Mr. Joseph Oparamanuike proceeded to the front of the stage, a tall, skinny man with broad shoulders.  But when he began to sing, if you hadn't been looking, you would have sworn it was a fat Italian.

The choir was also very good right from the start.  And the orchestra improved as the night went on.  The organist was so good, that I thought the music was recorded accompaniment, until I saw him playing.  In addition to Joseph Oparamanuike, the show featured two sopranos, Francesca Boyo and Uche Okonkwo, and a group of four called the Nigerian Tenors, Precious A. Omuku, Stanely Okoli, Michael Obinyan and Frank Okoye.  I think Michael was my favorite, but that may have just been because he reminded me of The Legend.

The program included classic pieces by Puccini, Verdi and Mozart, among others.  The choir sang some songs in English by Handel and Purcell.  There were even some Nigerian opera pieces in local languages.  My favorite was O'te Nkwu by Laz Ekwueme, which featured Frank Okoye as a soloist.

The sopranos were very diva-esque in their dresses.  They even changed clothes in between songs.  Big poofy dress, glitter covered ones, some tight, others not.  One even channeled 15th Century Europe with its lace up front and big ruffled collar.  The sopranos did a duet called The Cat Duet, by Rossini.  It was a lot of meowing!  But it showed off their voices nicely.

As wonderful as the performances were, there were still little reminders that I was in Africa: the video camera men standing on the stage, blocking the audience's view of the performers; the frequent ringing of cellphones; and of course the large sleeping girl next to me who kept spilling off her mother's lap and onto mine.  Overall, the concert was incredible, and I am very glad I went.  This may have even been worth missing Lil' Wayne.

The Food
Almost as amazing as the music, was the food after the show.  This spread was one of the fanciest I've ever seen!  More so than our Blackacres at school, even more so than the firm shindigs.  Glass DSCI0273 tiers held little dishes of pineapple upside-down cake, olives, fruits and so much more.  You should have seen the excitement on my face when I saw a big bowl of cheese.  And the disappointment when I realized it was pineapple and cantaloupe cubes.   Different stations around the lobby and out in the courtyard featured made-to-order sautéed pasta. DSCI0271 I had little ring-shaped pasta in a wonderful pesto and garlic sauce with onion!  There was red wine, white wine, juice, beer.  Tables featured gellato, rice, pasta, Italian breads, salads and all sorts of meats and seafoods.   I haven't eaten this well in months.

The Crowd
I think since I've been here, up until last night, I'd seen about 6 white people.  This event had so many, such diversity, I could have been in America.  (If they hadn't looked so strikingly European.)  I met a man from Chicago who's in the oil shipping business.  A gentleman from Geneva who works for the red cross, and a lady from Abuja who's mother is from southern Nigeria and who's father is British.  She was surprised when I told her where I was from.  "You don't look American!"  (I get that a lot when I'm abroad.  I was even mistaken for an Italian on a vapareto in Venice!)  Americans have a tendency to stand-out in a way that I don't.  And I really take that as a good thing.

One neat thing that's consistent with every event I've been to in Africa is that the performers come out and mingle after the shows.  I got to meet Frank (Okoye) and have my picture taken with him and Michael (Obinyan).  Unfortunately, it was by one of the professional photographers and not with my camera.  :(  One of the girls from the choir came up to me and told me, "I like you; you're pretty."  That was a nice little ego booster.

It was a great event, and it's annual.  So if any of you ever happen to be in Abuja around the anniversary of Pavarotti's death, be sure to check it out!


Mom-me said...

Sounds like it was a good time. I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm in Nigeria. ;)

MaryRuth said...

Wow, what a totally awesome report! Sounds like you had a blast.
About the Cat BF sings along to CD's in the "meow-meow" voice all the time! He'll love this!