By Larry Ludwig
October 18, 2015

Sergei Prokofievs Opera “Monastery Weddings” is sheer JOY! He composed this work at the onset of World War II, in 1940. Think perhaps to escape for but a brief few hours into a delightful comedy with which to forget the doom and gloom of Stalin purges and the horrors of war. Yes, it is a comic opera, featuring some eight-lead roles, yes, eight principal singers. More than likely the key reason why this work is rarely performed. Wikipedia mentions “recent” performances in only England, Scotland and Spain, in 1989, 2006 and 2008. It was first performed in 1946 in St. Petersburg.

Well to be added to that list is the August-September 2015 production of Theatro So Pedro in São Paulo, Brasil. Also called “Betrothals in a Monastery” (“Bodas no Monastrio” in Portuguese), the plot is a convoluted, complex scenariao much reminiscent of a Shakespearean “Comedy of Errors” mixed in with a Verdian “Falstaff”. At times seemingly too complex to follow, but in the end, as the saying goes, “alls well that ends well.” Yes, an opera with a happy ending. Nobody dies! Hopefully the Wikipedia plot summary below will help clarify the confusion.

The 600-seat Theatros production was superb, excellent. Not a single fault could I find. A friendly semi-abstract set with its mix of a curtain drop and multi-purpose plastic blocks that for once “worked”, which with varying degrees of multi-colored lighting, allowed for quick scene changes (of which there are many in this opera) clearly evoking the required plot setting. Beautiful period Costumes (the opera seems to take place in the 1700s-1800s), good makeup, wonderful wigs, great choreography, great acting, and of course, excellent singing.

Not a weak link in the entire eight singing lead roles (contralto, bass, tenors, baritones, soprano, mezzo-soprano), two principal secondaries and an exemplary chorus. Not to mention, excellent conducting and outstanding performance of the orchestra. Sung in Russian, a Russian speaking Brasilian friend pointed out, the singers Russian diction was more than passable, a testament to both the Russian language coach and the linguistic talents of the mostly Brasilian cast. And for the record, the Portuguese subtitles were excellent.

Besides the myriad of plot surprises, Prokofiev worked in a few subtle, not so subtle surprising moments. For instance, what seemed like pure walk-on non-singing supernumerary roles for some of the servants, servants who pretended to be talking and gesticulating… well appearances can be deceiving. Two of them turn into secondary singing roles, with the maid suddenly becoming, after what seemed like half of the opera, one of the two top lead, and most applauded singers. Never had occasion to experience that role-reversal in an opera heretofore.

Then there was the subdued, but quite classically balletic dancing by some of the servants, done in quite confined spaces. Difficult but done beautifully, elegantly. More like a side-bar action to main events elsewhere on stage… sometimes feeling like a three ring circus. Also featured was a three-piece trumpet, drum, clarinet combo on stage, as well as cast members walking onstage up from the audience.

Than the big WOWer, well one of two big WOWs of the night… a super rousing rambunctious well staged chorus of drunken, rapacious, yes very greedy monastery monks. Felt like a scene out of Karl Orffs “Carmina Burana”, perhaps the inspiration for what was one of the more powerful scenes of this opera. The monks brought the house down, as that saying goes.

The other “WOW” moment was during the concluding moments of the opera, with Don Jerome, tenor Giovanni Tristacci, while singing at full volume, put on a virtuoso performance playing musical-bottles non-stop, at a presto high-velocity pace. A true musical “tour de force”, one of the evenings many memorable highlights.

Prokofievs music is much like that of his ballet, “Romeo and Juliet”. The music melodies, tender or be it martial, flow, seeming seamlessly, without pause, leading one easily from one scene to the next, from one emotional moment to the next. There are very few solo aria or duet or quartet like moments common to more traditional operas, no real place for the audience to express delight with applause and bravos. That has to be saved for the end of each act, and especially at the end of the opera itself. And applause and bravos, bravas and bravis were aplenty with the standing ovation, this one, in my view, truly earned and very much deserved.

If you get the chance, do go see this work. Its an opera evening as noted earlier of pure JOY. You wont be disappointed.

By the way, the cast list follows, along with the Wikipedia plot-summary synopsis.

A Duenna Lidia Schffer, Mendoza Svio Sperandio, Don Jerome Giovanni Tristacci, Don Ferdinando Johnny Frana, Louisa Laua Duarte, Don Antonio Anibal Mancini, Clara DAlmanza Marly Montoni, Dom Carlos Erick Souza…and honorable mention on secondary, the two chief Monks, Padre Elustaf and Padre Augustin, Mar Oliveira and Educaro Fujita. This is in addition to eight other minor secondary roles.

Conductor Andr Dos Santos.
Coral Lrico Paulista and Orquestra do Theatro So Pedro

Synopsis:
Act 1
Don Jerome intends his daughter Louisa to marry the vain, wealthy and ugly fish merchant Mendoza. However, she loves instead Antonio, who is poor, though noble in spirit. Furthermore, Don Ferdinand, son of Don Jerome and prone to fits of jealousy, wants to marry Clara dAlmanza, who is a virtual prisoner of her stepmother.
Act 2
Don Jerome locks up Louisa in her room to force her to marry Mendoza. Louisas nurse (the Duenna) provokes the fury of Don Jerome by pretending to be a messenger between Antonio and Louisa. Jerome dismisses her – but the Duenna exchanges clothes with Louisa who makes her escape in this disguise.
By the quayside – where fisherwomen are praising the quality of the fish caught in Mendozas boats – Louisa encounters her friend Clara, who has also run away from home and intends to seek sanctuary at the monastery. Louisa asks to borrow Claras name for a day – Clara assents. Enter Mendoza and his courtly friend Don Carlos. Mendoza is recognized by Louisa but he has never seen her. She therefore approaches Mendoza claiming to be Clara and asks him to take her under his protection and find Antonio with whom she is in love. Mendoza is attracted by this idea as a means to rid himself of his rival Antonio by marrying him off to Clara. Don Carlos escorts Clara to Mendozas house.
Mendoza visits the house of Don Jerome to meet Louisa (the Duenna in disguise); whilst Louisa is not as young and beautiful as Mendoza had been led to believe, her dowry is sufficient attraction. they agree to elope that evening.
Act 3
The mystified Antonio arrives at Mendozas house; while he is offstage meeting Clara, Mendoza and don Carlos congratulate themselves on their cunning. Still unwitting, they agree to help the pair get married.
Don Jerome is rehearsing some amateur musicians (A trio of trumpet, clarinet and bass drum). He receives two messages- one from Mendoza saying he has eloped with Louisa, which delights him, and another from the real Louisa, which he does not read carefully, asking for his blessing on her marriage. He sends back his consent with both messengers and arranges for a great feat later that evening to celebrate.
At the monastery, Clara meets with Antonio and Luisa and laments her apparent loss of Ferdinand. Enter Ferdinand , who mistaking Clara for a nun exclaims that he is chasing his false friend Antonio who has run off with his beloved Clara. Clara is secretly overjoyed at this demonstration of Ferdinands passion.
Act 4
The act opens with a drinking song for the monks in the monastery where the marriages are to be performed. The monks then switch to a hymn that extols fasting and abstinence, to a tune that is a slower variant of the earlier drinking song. Enter Mendoza and Antonio who by lavish bribery gain the monks consent to marry them to their loves. Enter Ferdinand who challenges Antonio to a duel, but the genuine Clara arrives and Ferdinand now understands the true situation. The three marriages are agreed.
At Don Jeromes feast, the host is increasingly amazed, exasperated and infuriated as the successive arrival of the newly-weds makes it clear that his plans have gone completely awry. He is slightly compensated by the likely size of Claras dowry. He sings a drinking song, accompanying himself on a set of tuned glasses.

By Pedro Souza, Staff Writer
October 18, 2015

When trying to speak Brazilian Portuguese, the language that is used on a day-to-day basis is riddled with slangs and expressions. As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge, these expressions change a lot from region to region. Below, we have listed some slangs and expressions that will help you to understand the people of São Paulo, Paulistas.

Meu/mano: Both of these expressions are frequently used by young people, and they are the paulista equivalent of "dude", "bro" or "man".

Ta ligado?: This expression literally means "are you on?". This is asked after making a statement, and it is the same as asking in English "You know what I mean?"

Na moral: To do something "na moral" is to do it in a way that is not arrogant or disrespectful. But when you ask "Na moral?", this slang has a completely different meaning. In this case, it is the same as asking "really?"

Sinistro!: As one can easily guess, this translated literally to "sinister". People say that as a reaction to something that is bizarre, cool or freaky.

Mina: A shortened version of "menina" (girl), this is the paulista equivalent of "chick".

Firmeza: This word means "firmeness", but when used as a slang it is the same as saying "all right". It is also used as a greeting, with one person asking "firmeza?", and the other person answering "firmeza!".

Fica Frio: When telling someone to relax, this is what paulistanos say. Literally, this expression means "stay cool".

Pode crer: When people from São Paulo agree with what someone just said, they often reply "pode crer", which literally means "you can believe).

Tipo: This word is pops up a lot when paulistanos speak. It means "type", but they also use it in a way similar to a comma, without altering the meaning of the sentence at all.

Farol: The paulista word for "traffic light".

Lombada: This is how paulistas call a speed bump.

Mo cara!: A way of saying "a long time"

Se pa: A slang with no possible translation that means "maybe".

U: This expression has no real meaning or translation, but it is used a lot by people from São Paulo. It is usually said when questioning something unusual.

Top: Taken from english, paulistas call something "top" when it is really good.

Suave: One of the most common slangs used by young paulistas, this expression has a few uses. It can be used as a greeting the same way as firmeza, but it can also mean that something or someone is easy or relaxed.

Tenso: Meaning "tense", this expression is used to describe something or some situation that is difficult or bad. If someone tells a story about getting robbed for example, someone else might reply "tenso!". Another person might use the word to describe a difficult videogame level.

By Pedro Souza, Staff Writer
October 18, 2015

Brazilians are known throughout the world as warm and friendly people. They are also usually receptive towards foreigners, and tend to treat them very well. That being said, there are many cultural differences foreigners face when coming to Brazil, especially those that do not come from a Latino culture. Whether you plan to visit Brazil or live here, being aware of those differences is a good way to improve your interactions with locals.

One of the first things that strike unaware foreigners is the way people greet each other in Brazil. Men tend to great one another with handshakes, while kissing women on the cheeks. Women also kiss each other on the cheeks usually. In some parts of the country such as São Paulo, this is done with a single kiss, but in other places, people will greet with two kisses instead.

Another thing that might seem strange for foreigners, especially those from European or Asian countries, is how touchy Brazilians are. It is very common for locals to touch others in the shoulder or to give a slap in the back while they talk for example. When talking, Brazilians tend to speak in a direct manner, and in a relaxed and casual style. They also have a tendency to interrupt others during a conversation, which can bother foreigners but is considered normal for natives.

Brazilians usually dress well and in a stylish manner, specially in large cities. In the countryside, people tend to dress in a simpler manner and are more conservative in their style. When going to churches or government buildings, using tank-tops or hats is frowned upon. As for business meetings, men are always expected to wear a full suit, while women should wear smart business suits. Brazilians can also be quite formal when it comes to business settings, despite their laidback manner in casual settings.

There is also something known as "Brazilian time". For most informal meetings, be they parties, dinners or reunions, it is very common for people to be late. Except in the case of a business meeting, you should not expect people to arrive on time.

When it comes to conversations, it is often sensible to avoid some topics. Brazilians tend to be very sensitive when it comes to foreigners opinion of Brazil, and usually do not take criticism very well. Topics such as poverty, crime and politics can make Brazilians upset, so you need to be very careful when threading on these topics. You should avoid criticizing Brazilian culture as well, unless you are fairly sure that the people you are talking to are open to it, which usually isn’t the case.

There are also a few things foreigners should know about eating in Brazil, the first being that lunches or dinners can take very long. Brazilians like to take their meals slowly and talk a lot, so a lunch can last over two hours in some cases. They also tend to have good table manners in industrial cities, so be careful with the way you eat. Chewing or talking with an open mouth is considered really rude, and in some settings putting your elbows on the table is frowned upon. When eating at a restaurant, putting your fork and knife side by side in your plate indicate that you have finished, but waiters will not bring the bill unless you ask them to. Tipping is not common in Brazil, and there is usually a 10% service fee that is included in the bill.

With those things in mind, you shouldn’t have much of a problem adapting to Brazil. Despite cultural differences, Brazilians are friendly and easy to deal with, and are usually quite tolerant of mistakes that foreigners might make. Be willing to adapt and open, and soon you will find yourself at home here in Brazil.