An Evening At The Metropolitan Opera
For centuries opera has been about more than just music. A destination for harbingers of good taste, lovers of art, culture and fashion - and of connoisseurs of champagne - attending the Opera has long been a refined circus of aesthetics and aural pleasantries. A favorite pastime of royals and industrialists alike, Operas are performed across the great cultural centers in grand opera houses that are intended to delight anyone who steps through their doors.
I have been lucky enough to be apart of this experience for many years. I remembering attending the Opera with my grandmother in Boston when I was far too young to even appreciate the story lines and attending the Viennese Opera on a snowy December night. The first opera I ever saw was La Traviata and I don’t remember anything about it except that I got to wear my favorite patent leather shoes, a five year old's dream, of course. By the second time I saw it, I had become a admirer of the art form that I have been able to experience throughout my life.
Never have I been luckier, however, than to get a behind the scenes look at the fabled Metropolitan Opera - which counts this season as its 50th at it’s home in Lincoln Center in New York City’s Upper West Side. Carpeted in red, The Met is an iconic venue for one of history’s most celebrated forms of amusement -of entertainment and pleasure. The sparkling “Sputnik” chandeliers adorn the palace of dance, vocals and instrumentals as you step inside. And the grand curved staircase leads you into the great theater where productions of musical giants are performed.
And while a night at The Met is symbolic of a cultural phenomenon that transcends languages and cultures, I also found learned something new, something hidden from the opera patron's eye - that the inner workings of The Metropolitan Opera are remarkable. Every detail for each of the 26 productions throughout the season are meticulously crafted through the work of a cacophony of talent- singers, costume designers, musicians, conductors, stage hands and many more.
No detail is over looked in the grandiose productions at The Metropolitan Opera. Coiffed wigs and intricate sets abound in the elaborate production of Don Giovanni which I saw on an early November night.
And that was just what I saw on stage during the performance. Behind the scenes, there is an maze of halls and rooms bustling with artists and craftsmen of all sorts and sets, costumes and props for all of the varied productions they put on. The rehearsal rooms and costume closets were littered with evidence of the impending premiere of Aida among other operas. The inner workings of everything from the prop room, where decadent sets are designed, built and decorated, to the rehearsal stages, where mock sets are in place, are remarkable.
The true achievement of The Metropolitan Opera is that it produces true large scale works of art - on almost a daily basis throughout the season. And from the Founder’s Hall in the lobby which is lined with portraits of artists past to The Metropolitan Club where members and opera patrons sip champagne in white tie, and the plush velvet seats in the parterres of the auditorium, the organized chaos of backstage life is non existent. From the moment you step onto the plaza at Lincoln Center there is a distinct feeling that you are partaking in something grand - something wonderful - of a centuries old tradition.
The calm elegance of an evening at the opera is something magical, especially when you realize that in the belly of Lincoln Center, there is a sort of artists’ factory, where visual and aural artists collide and coexist with the sole purpose of bringing music to life.
When the chatter gives way to a hush as patrons glide from the lobby to their seats and the lights dim, you get a feeling that opera attendees have had since the days of the Grand Operas in Europe, a feeling that you're about to witness something fantastic.
Don Giovanni has been called “the Iliad of Operas,” and was, as it has been for centuries, a fantastic opera. Centered around the Mozart’s music and the story of the life of an unapologetic hedonistic misogynist , you realize that themes from the 18th century still remain true to this day. And it was during Don Giovanni that I realized, the opera is not just stories of the past accompanied by archaic music from composers who lived long before we could fathom in languages we do not speak; it is a testament to art, theater and music. Because, operas still offer a fully immersive escape, from the preproduction champagne to the thrilling sounds of the baritones and sopranos on stage. But whether we value the stories, the symphonies or simply watching music become personified, the opera is an experience that can delight Marie Antoinette just as much as it can delight a modern-day New England girl like me.
The Metropolitan Opera is a hallmark of the lasting traditions of the Opera but also showed me that the Opera doesn’t have to become a symbol of times past and elder generations either. Throughout the season, The Metropolitan Opera hosts Friday productions designated as “Under 40 Nights” where opera lovers and even some musical novices enjoy a complimentary cocktail reception before the show and reduced priced tickets. The glamour, however, is still unmistakable.
For any cultural enthusiast, head to The Met for an evening that will titillate your senses and eclipse all your modern notions of amusements and entertainment.