Monday, April 8, 2013

6-Star Reviews Part 139: The Pony of the Opera

To read the story, click the image or follow this link

I can't seem to think of anything interesting to put up top here.  No matter; pop on down below the break for my review of Miyajima's The Pony of the Opera, about which I assure you I do have something to say; with any luck, it will even prove to be something interesting.

Impressions before reading:  My only experience with the Phantom of the Opera (beyond cultural osmosis, anyway) is the Andrew Lloyd Webber opera.  This seems to be based on that opera, and to be truthful, it's an opera which I didn't really care for.  Still, I'm not too concerned about this fanfic from a thematic perspective; the Phantom brings a solid enough premise to build off of, at least in theory.  I'm just hoping that I'm not in for a bunch of re-written musical lyrics.  I've seen plenty of stories (sometimes crossovers with operas or musicals, sometimes not) throw in a lyrical parody, and I can't think of a single time it's been an unambiguously good idea.

Zero-ish spoiler summary:  Fluttershy is plucked from Ponyville by the manager of the Canterlot Opera House to be the new star of his theatre.  There, she quickly discovers that the theatre is believed to be haunted, and that the "ghost" has taken a personal interest in her.

Thoughts after reading:  We'll start by assuaging pre-reading me's fears: no ponified Webber lyrics here.  There are a number of musical links, which ranged from mildly annoying to "merely" needless--although Mozart et al is perfectly unobjectionable music, it's at best an unnecessary distraction to include real-world equivalents of the music the ponies are performing, when specific knowledge of the music in question isn't directly relevant to the story.  Miyajima also tosses in a link to another author's fanfic to justify a bit of AJ's behavior that, frankly, didn't need any more justification than was already provided by the present text, which seems to me both bizarre and immersion breaking.

The story itself was fundamentally solid, but not particularly enthralling.  Although the narrative comes together nicely, there are some issues with pacing.  Fluttershy being tabbed to perform in Canterlot with the flimsiest of justifications I could buy, at least insofar as it moved the action quickly to the main plot, but frenetic speed during plot advancement is the rule of the day even after the Phantom rears its head.  Meanwhile, unnecessary fluff is allowed to billow.  For example, when Rarity sends each of the main six an invitation to the opera house, a separate scene is given to each of them as they receive and discuss their letters.  While it's true that these scenes are entertaining enough in and of themselves, it's impossible to look at the time lavished on them without asking why they merit more verbiage than the entirety of Fluttershy's transformation from shy waif with no musical training to confident (well, sufficiently confident, anyway) opera singer.  Indeed, I feel like I should be irate considering the way musical training and rehearsal generally are depicted in this fic, but I find I can't be; so little was depicted at all that it's hard to feel anything towards it.

On a more positive note, there the story's sense of humor.  Some falls flat, and some stands out (and some falls somewhere in the middle; I laughed aloud at this line from Twilight's letter, though I suspect other readers will simply scowl: "You'll also find enclosed a return envelope [that] has been enchanted with the Opera House's dragonfire service thaumic signature, or 'hotmail address', I think they call it.").  The comedy is fairly muted throughout (as it should be, in a semi-serious story like this), but I found it to generally be a welcome addition.

The best parts of the story mostly involve the main six interacting, and it's clear that Miyajima has a feel for these characters.  Unfortunately, few of the OCs who fill the opera (the Phantom notwithstanding) are given much personality.  In fact, only one leaves any particular impression, and she's more caricature than character.  Considering what a large part of the story they represent, particularly in the early going, this proves to be a major flaw.  For long stretches, the reader is faced with a combination of lurching plot advancement and dry-as-paste characters--not an ideal combination by any stretch.

I suspect that the problems with characterization and pacing, at least to some degree, come from trying to adapt a musical story in the first place.  Theatre, particularly musical theatre, can get away with far less in the areas of exposition and characterization by virtue of its musical and visual elements--elements which are not part of an author's arsenal (usually).  Iron Knot, for example, is a stageworker about whom I can think of nothing to say which isn't simply a description of his role in the story.  Were this a play and he a character in it, the actor given his part might try to play him as a clumsy comic relief role, or as a grizzled harbinger of doom.  But here, with only the words on the page to shape him, he's nothing but a near-faceless cog.

Star rating:   (what does this mean?)

This isn't a bad story by any means... but I can't say it's a good one, either.  It exists in that comfortable middle ground between actually engaging and actually unpleasant.  Considering the sheer number of fanfics that fail to rise even to those modest heights, it's perhaps not surprising that this story was well-received.  But past the well-known tale of revenge which is its premise (well, a well-known tale, somewhat adapted--although it does vacillate in the story to a degree, the author (to his/her credit) clearly recognized that murder wouldn't have fit the tone at all) and the odd pun, there's just not a lot here that excites.

Recommendation:  Low rating notwithstanding, this is a very competent adaptation of PotO; anyone specifically interested in reading such an adaption need look no further.  For a more general reader though, The Pony of the Opera will probably elicit more indifference than enthusiasm.

Next time:  Antipodes, by PK


  1. Yay, Antipodes! Another review I've been looking forward to

    Sadly, I don't have anything to add about the fic you actually reviewed today. I'm not a fan of Webber's at all, so a story like this wouldn't really catch my eye. Still, sad to see it only got 1 star (we've been getting a lot of those, haven't we?), as you never can tell what sort of things you'll end up liking. Oh well. C'est la vie, and all that jazz

  2. >hotmail address


  3. Interesting. Opera and musical theater is the one segment of classical music that doesn't particularly interest me. I've never been to an opera, and have attended only one musical, entirely by mistake. And I particularly don't like Webber. So I have no reason to read this one, but I'd hoped it'd at least be good for what it was, on the strength of the author alone. I thought Binky Pie was a good adaptation of the original material's style (and we'll eventually get Chris's thoughts on that one, too), so I would have expected Miyajima could do it in this instance as well. Now I feel less bad about skipping it.

    1. How could you attend a musical by mistake? (sidenote: people actually left the theater when they realized Sweeney Todd was a musical!)

      I highly recommend you give musicals a second chance with The Producers. It was a great experience; worth every penny. I've only attended one opera, The Magic Flute, and was surprised to find I actually enjoyed it. Not nearly as much as I did The Producers, but still a pretty good experience

    2. I've listened to numerous snippets of opera, and just didn't enjoy it.

      As to the musical...

      A college friend and I were going to a symphony concert, and he remembered there was an error in the schedule, but not which performance. Lucky me. We expected the cheap seats to be around $11. The cashier said $32. We said we were paying separately. She said she knew. Not until we got inside was there a banner proclaiming what the performance was. My friend didn't mind, since he liked musicals. So I watched "Crazy for You," starring some apparently well-known headliners.

    3. Uh...while I respect you not liking opera, you do realize that this kind of music really is meant to be heard in context, as it were? I don't particularly enjoy some parts of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but they're just that - parts of a greater whole. Listening to snippets of opera is like judging movies solely based on their trailers.

    4. Hey! Gershwin's great! Also, I was Lank Hawkins in my high school's production of Crazy for You back in the day, so if you've got a problem with that play, you've got a problem with me.

      In all seriousness though, I thought it was more than a couple of steps above other school-standard musicals that I've been in, like Bye Bye, Birdie and Guys and Dolls. There's a reason why Gershwin's music is adapted for and performed by all kinds of vocal and instrumental groups, while the famous songs from the other two plays are mostly only seen in the world of theatre.

    5. Ospero, if you've read many of my comments at all before, you'd know one thing I'll do is give music a fair shake before deciding I don't like it. And if the parts I hear are supposed to be the highlights, but I'm still not enjoying it, then... no.

      To quote Bugs Bunny: "He don't know me very well, do he?"

    6. I'm sorry, but I believe I'm the only one here with the credentials to quote Bugs Bunny.

      Also, I'm noticing that you philistines are talking opera and paying absolutely no attention to Gilbert and Sullivan.

      "Of course you realize, this means war."

    7. I had a long answer primed to both Bugs and Pascoite, but I'll refrain from saying any more, except two things: Gilbert and Sullivan are not opera composers on the same level as Verdi, Mozart or Bizet (if anyone doesn't know those names, you can rightfully call them a philistine, whereas G&S are basically unknown outside the English-speaking world), and I stand by my assertion that you can't dismiss an entire subgenre of classical music, which gave us "Nessun dorma", "La donna è mobile", "Ride of the Valkyries" and uncounted other priceless gems, simply by listening to a few snippets of it.

    8. Don't you mean "fillystine"?

      I'll just leave now...

    9. As something of a G&S aficionado (I've performed all their patter-songs at one point or another; My Name is John Wellington Wells and Love, Unrequited (the Nightmare Song are my personal favorites, but all anyone ever wants to hear is Modern Major General), I have to jump in and point out that The Mikado is actually extremely popular in Japan. Also, the fact that G&S operetta doesn't translate as well as well as some so-called "heavier" fare, which doesn't require an equal appreciation of lyrics and notes to properly enjoy, is not something I take as a sign of inferior quality; rather, of it being a quite different beast from Italian and Italian-inspired high opera, which needs to be appreciated on its own (quite substantial) merits.

    10. Ugh, I had a longer reply typed out, but it got lost. In fewer words, I just have to say that I have seen a full Opera before (albeit a short one), performed in a couple of musicals (neither of them Gilbert and Sullivan, though), and I still much prefer symphonies and other forms of Classical works. Let's not forget that personal taste is a thing, right?

    11. The Mikado is popular in Japan? That makes me feel loads better for liking it. A video production of said play was a favorite of mine as a child.

    12. You and I have very different ideas of a few snippets, Ospero. Please stop reading into my words things I didn't say. I didn't hear fifteen seconds of opera and judge the whole thing by that. I've listened to 15-20 minute stretches of a dozen or so, and none of them did anything for me. Continuing to try would satisfy the definition of insanity. If you think that makes me uncultured, then try me on classical music sometime.

    13. "Try" what, exactly? Convince you of the merits of opera? I'm not doing that, not after finally realizing where you're coming from on this. And yes, your use of "snippet" was misleading to say the least; I don't define a 15-minute excerpt from something as a "snippet".

      No, I don't think you're uncultured for not liking opera. But the way you worded your first comment, it sounded like you had listened to five minutes and decided on the spot that it wasn't for you - that's not me reading things into anything, that's how that comment comes across, plain and simple. My apologies for getting that wrong.

  4. Oh, Antipodes. That was pretty good, actually. Not sure what you'll make of it though.