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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Met at the Movies

Spent an afternoon at Met at the Movies, a bright new idea by the venerable Metropolitan Opera to cast their net over a wider audience by transmitting their Saturday afternoon matinees into movie theaters around the world. I’ve been going to these ever since I found out about them, three years ago. At our Regal Theater, we’re also able to see a repeat on the Wednesday night following the Saturday afternoon broadcast.

Opera lovers are an odd, and, for the most part, elderly subset of the population, but they are thick enough upon the ground to fill a theater here in Central Pennsylvania. Seats are first come, first serve, so you’ll see the old folks coming early, especially the wheel-chair bound and the oxygen toting group, also carrying in their sandwiches and bottles of water semi-surreptitiously in their totes. At $22 a ticket per Senior, the theater staff has (so far) graciously looked the other way at this otherwise frowned-upon practice. I brought water and a sliced apple to carry me through the recent performance of Don Carlo by Verdi, as it was to last 4 ½ hours.

Young people are arriving more frequently at these performances, brought in by local colleges as part of their musical or humanities education. I’ve been glad to see them attending, and hope that a few of these become converts to this most peculiar Western art form.

I’ve never seen "Don Carlo" before, although I’ve heard it on the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts. It’s dark, even for Verdi, with the usual repressed and emotionally abused heroine—in this case a princess, a pawn played both by father and husband. There is also an on-stage burning of heretics, (a gruesome depiction of fanatical cruelty), betrayals of friendship, and backstabbing, all culminating in the murder of a prince condoned by his kingly father. Lawlessness and violence committed by The Church and by Society are enduring themes in Verdi operas; his music carries the despairing message even more powerfully than his story lines. I usually leave such operas emotionally drained, and Don Carlo was no exception.

It’s interesting to attend these events, for besides the spectacle there are small conversations to be had while waiting for the show to begin. We opera goers have stories to share that can only be appreciated by others of our kind, for instance, reading the Milton Cross Complete Guide to the Stories of the Opera. We talk about listening to the Met Broadcasts on the radio as part of our childhood experience, and perhaps reminisce a little about the person who introduced us to the art. I can still see my mother, lounging on a pink tufted Chenille bed spread, her blonde cocker spaniel tucked beside her. With cigarettes, matches, ash tray, lying on her side with a mostly unread book, she’d have the radio on, listening to Grand Opera from New York City. Oddly, at our house, near Syracuse, we received our Metropolitan Saturday Afternoon performance from a station in Toronto. Through the ether, across Lake Ontario from Canada, Great Art arrived at our snow-bound house in the Finger Lakes. It’s always gray outside that remembered window, and always snowing. The music is the brightest color in the room, especially if I’m lying on the braided wool rug with my toys, being a "good girl" which meant not bothering her by talking, just quietly imagining.