Friday, April 8, 2011

Opera, Not Oprah!

With some trepidation, I did something Wednesday night that I’d never done before and I’ll tell you – I can hardly wait to do it again. Stephen and I—not to mention about 225 other people whose median age was well over 68— sat in a dark little theatre for over four hours simply captivated by the Metropolitan Opera’s encore presentation of Lucia di Lammermoor , Donizetti’s tragic opera, Live in HD!

My early introduction to opera was something on PBS my father suggested I watch, “It’ll be good for you.”  He probably escaped to another room leaving me to sit through thirty grueling minutes of gray, non-descript scenery with strange over-actors practicing extreme vocal sounds in an attempt to tell an incomprehensible story. “It’s like a musical for cultured people.”

Yeah, right.

Armed with that keen experience, I have successfully avoided opera, except for the random piece heard here and there, until Wednesday night. 

Ever since getting all teary-eyed hearing Andrea Bocelli a few years back, I decided that maybe I ought to give the Italian operatic voice another chance. Rather than run right out to the opera house, we were thrilled to take a chance on the Metropolitan Opera in HD at a local movie theatre. I figured it wasn’t that much of an investment (financially speaking – though the time involved is nothing to sneeze at). So sometime last year, I went to get tickets for a performance a whole two weeks in advance. The ticket lady laughed at me. “Those were sold out three months ago.”

What? I said OPERA, not Oprah! Who knew how popular it was?

Of course, now I had to see the Metropolitan Opera in HD! My inability to get the tickets coupled with recently hearing my youngest practicing hard to master only the first few lines of Il mio bel foco put me in just the right mood to enjoy the vocal gymnastics displayed by Natalie Dessay as Lucia. The Lucia role, I came to find out, was written for a coloratura soprano, and Natalie Dessay is one of the best. The tenor who played Edgardo, Lucia’s lover, Joseph Calleja, was really good (I love tenors), and the baritone, Ludovic Tezier, was perfectly creepy as her brother.

The story of Lucia di Lammermoor was a sort of Isabel and the Pot of Basil meets Romeo and Juliet (by way of Ophelia), but the staged production was so much more than the story alone. 

In addition to the pleasure of experiencing the excellent singing and acting by Dessay, was the pleasure of seeing and hearing from the performers themselves during the set changing intermissions.  But wait, there’s more! Because of the mobility of the cameras, we also got to see behind the actual scenes themselves, watching the 90+ workers tearing down and building a set behind the curtain at the famous opera house

The curtain itself had to be lined by some type of sound-proofing material because those sets were HUGE and those workers were LOUD! It was incredibly interesting to see all the rigging, the stretched-fabric walls, the trim, the scrims!  And then have the curtain rise and see a seamlessly complete room, or cemetery.  Soprano Renee Fleming worked backstage interviewing the performers, the director, the technical director, and the master carpenter (who wore a mic). As a special treat—well, it was for me—she interviewed the handlers of the two Irish Wolfhounds who appeared in Act 1 (the opera was set in Scotland and they were pret-ty cagey about how their dogs beat out the Scottish Deerhounds for the role).

So the performance is billed as four hours longs with two intermissions.  But the intermissions are no time to run out of the auditorium; they’re a time to sit back and be amazed at what goes into such a production (so buy your Goobers early).  During the time the stage at the Opera House is dark you get to experience what you would never experience live. 

Finally, regarding the performance itself, there can be no way that attending the opera in person would allow you to see the expressions and the action of the presentation any better than in the theatre on a 30 foot screen. The production values of the entire The Met Live in HD were simply outstanding.  Close up and personal, behind the scenes, educational, and a must try for any opera newbie – like me.

We ran out of the theatre and scooped up three of the last 13 tickets for the upcoming Die Walkure.  Yes, I will be singing I killed the wabbit, but I don’t think I will be alone on that one. Check out the costume sketches and a brief preview of the technical spectacle of the set and performance!

So far, I’m gearing up for the first and last of next season’s performances, and if all goes well next month, the rest of the Ring Cycle.

I loved it! Who knew?


Unknown said...

Yes! I love the Met Live in HD! I saw my first performance about a year and a half ago and loved it! I've seen quite a few since then, and they are very good. My previous opera experience was limited to a field trip to see Hansel and Gretel in the fourth grade. My Met Live experiences even inspired me to buy some tickets to the Houston Grand Opera, which has been mostly enjoyable. I saw Lucia di Lammermoor live in Houston a couple of months ago, and I was totally gobsmacked by the soprano. It was awesome!

Lynne said...

That's terrific! I'm thinking that after a few more Live in HD performances, maybe a trip to the Metropolitan Opera House is in order - as if I needed another reason to want to go to NYC!