Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Afternoon at the Opera


Just attended one of those wonderful HD transmissions in my local Regal theater. These originate at the Saturday matinee of the Metropolitan Opera’s "Aida."

“Met at the Movies” is a godsend to lots of us: elderly fans and to those who’d like to introduce kids to this peculiar Western art form, and folks like me who don’t have a zillion dollars for Trip to NYC + A Good Seat. I hope it raises some money for the Met, too, during this economic fall over the cliff we’ve just passed through.

It’s not only a real treat to see/hear the opera through the privileged eyes of cameras, but to get the commentary from the elegant Diva Renee Fleming. This week, she took us backstage to see fascinating things we’d never get a look at otherwise, like the formidable machinery that moves huge sets and multi-level stages in a few minutes, while stage hands, focused as any pit crew, swarm everywhere.

As the performance is broadcast live, all the glitches are there, too, like this week’s incident where the Prima Donna had to leap across a rapidly opening gap between two stages. Verdi Prima Donnas are not generally made for jumping, so her stumble when she landed elicited a gasp of real fear from the audience who really wanted her to survive to sing the last two acts.

When I was a kid, my mother spent her winter Saturday afternoons stretched on her bed with a cocker spaniel and a murder mystery. She chain-smoked and listened to the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcast. We managed to pick it up in the Finger Lakes, although the nearest station that carried it was in Toronto.

Grand Opera became the sonic background to many a snowy, freezing afternoon of childhood. I know this makes me a little strange, but the emotional depth and absolute beauty of operatic music became imprinted on my brain.

Yesterday, I sat in the theater, listening to the familiar score of "Aida" and remembered all sorts of things, like me and my best friend, Gay, dressing up and dancing to this music. A melancholy rush through time into a dark, cold Skaneateles afternoon...

Snow piled up outside, and the two of us, all of ten or eleven, played at ballet and make-believe, putting the needle back on the "Aida Highlights" record again and again. We danced in tights and undershirts, wearing junk jewelry we imagined was exotic, long polyester scarves and odds and ends from the costume box her clever seamstress mother maintained. For a few hours, we were Temple Priestesses or the Princess Amneris' dancing girls, not just kids in a small upstate town.