When I moved downstate to go to grad school, I caught a couple of productions at the university, but it wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles that I discovered the Met's Live in HD series. If you love opera but either live far from an established opera house or balk at the price of opera tickets (uh, yeah!), I encourage you to check this out! Here's what happens:
- About once a month during the season, the Met streams live performances in High Definition to movie theaters all over the world. Originally, venues were limited, but they've expanded to the extent that I was thrilled to find, moving back to Central Illinois from LA, I could even catch a production surrounded by cornfields!
- Tickets run about $22.
- Thanks to the camera work, you have the best seats in the house. You can see the actors' expressions and catch details that you would miss from Row ZZZ.
- In between scenes and during intermission, cameras go behind-stage following cast and crew, and famous opera stars [not involved in the current production] interview the leads about their roles and philosophies.
- You can feast on popcorn and soda while you watch the performance!
More stuff about opera.
Homework: opera can be overwhelming, so you will enjoy it more if you prepare ahead of time.
- Opera companies almost always will provide a plot synopsis online, which is especially helpful when the opera is performed in a foreign language. If you already know what's going on, you are less of a slave to the surtitles.
- Borrow a CD from your library of either the full opera or one with the highlights, and listen to the music beforehand.
- The Lyric Opera seasonally produces commentaries on each of its productions; most likely other companies do too. In these recordings, an opera expert presents an insider's view of the history of the opera, the plot, the composer, and the music. For example, the Commentary for the Lyric's production of The Magic Flute pointed out all the musical and lyrical Masonic symbols that Mozart, himself a Mason, hid within the opera. I was able to check out these CDs from my local library, or they're available for purchase.
- Read books on opera. I recommend Ticket to the Opera, A Night at the Opera, or Opera 101. Written for the opera novice, these guides include plotlines, historical facts, and often suggested recordings.
- Become familiar with the Opera stars. Let's face it: too often when we think of an opera singer, Elmer Fudd in a horned helmet comes to mind. And there are a lot of overweight, unattractive but talented performers out there--maybe better if you can't see them too close. But there are some really hot divas right now: Renée Fleming (did you see her spread in the October 2008 Vogue?!), Angela Gheorghiu, and my own favorite, gorgeous Anna Netrebko.
Okay, so don't go thinking opera is all serious business. In fact, while my husband and I were thoroughly entertained by the action on screen this past Saturday at La Damnation de Faust, there were plenty of high-jinks in the seats too. Like what, you ask?
Well, first of all, when we stepped into the theater, the average age dropped from about 85 to, well, maybe, 83 (and we're over forty, so do the math). People were saving space for their friends by draping their canes across the seats.
My husband sat on my right and, on my left, sat a Birkenstock-and-wool-sock-wearing elderly woman. She prepared for the opera by opening her lunch. In a baggie she had brought some ciabatta bread, cut into slices. In another bag, a hunk of cheese.
She handed the bread around to her friends. Then, brandishing a knife, she called down the row, "If you need to CUT THE CHEESE, I have a knife! [emphases mine]" (It was a sharp knife, too!) She kept yelling, "Do you need to CUT THE CHEESE?" which of course my husband and I found childishly hysterical. Finally, she offered around her lone water bottle. "We each get ONE DRINK," she ordered.
She fell asleep during the first act and started to snore.
Intermission was a riot. A lady in the front row passed around Christmas cookies. "I brought in contraband, so you all better finish it before we get caught," she announced to the audience. I chatted to the lady next to me about opera star (another hottie) Nathan Gunn, who lives locally. "I know he's an artist, and this shouldn't affect the way I feel about him," she confided to me, shaking her head, "But I just don't think of him the same way since I found out he voted for John McCain!" (This is why I love living in a liberal college town. I love how she just assumed that I would find this rumour as abhorrent as she did ;-) !)
Quite different from the last time my husband and I went to the theater, to see Quantum of Solace. The entire University of Illinois football team sat behind us, and there were no knives nor snores that I could tell. But damn, could those boys eat popcorn.