I love going to the opera, and drag Jayme along about five times a year. When I was a young man, I would sit somewhere near the roof but now we are fortunate to be closer to the stage. We saw Fedora very recently. It is not a great opera. The story is absurd, and it has not been performed at the Met for over 20 years. Whenever the Metropolitan Opera returns a rarely-heard opera back into its repertoire, they bring out the superstars to perform it. And so it was with this revival, which starred Sonya Yoncheva and Piotr Bezcala. The music was fair, but the singing was superb. Going to the Met, one often sees great performances, sometimes only good ones, and, rarely, average ones. But the experience of sitting in a vast hall covered mainly in red velvet, the visual spectacle of the sets, the professional excellence of the orchestra and chorus (and occasionally dancers), still makes each performance (regardless of the opera itself) a special New York evening.
You talk to your seat neighbors in the Opera. Before the curtain went up, I spoke to the lady seated next to me. She told me she was 80 (I never asked) and had been coming to the opera since she was eight. The audience at the Met is generally not young, and opera lovers like to discuss operas they have seen. We saw her in the lounge again at the intermission, and she and a female friend (who was very knowledgeable about operas) sat with us. Again, something that happens often. We discovered in conversation that we both knew friends in common, and when she found out what we did, told us that her grandchild attended a private school in New York in the third grade. I would venture to bet that quite a few members of the audience had grandchildren who were or had attended private school.
There is a pervasive feeling of nostalgia at the opera. The audience is aware that the art is not attracting a growing audience. There are young people but, in the main, it is not a young crowd (to say the least). Some patrons limp in with their canes or walkers, and others wear clothes (furs or tuxedos) that obviously they rarely wear, and smell faintly of mothballs. But they go, not only because they love opera but, like the lady next to me, because they have been going for many years and are reluctant to cede to their health issues by giving this custom up. I will take my senior class to a working rehearsal of La Boheme this Spring. It is my effort to keep opera going for the next generation. I hope some of them will want to repeat the experience.
I know that the Met has to rely on contributions from both the city and individuals to survive. It just is such an expensive art when performances of an opera are given only about five or six times a year. Each one requires a considerable number of professionals apart from the stars on the stage. And, after it is performed, there will be another opera put on in each succeeding evening. Then it returns in a few days time, until the end of its run. This is not a practical way to run an institution, and the Met has already announced that they will be cutting the number of operas they will put on next year. It may be that it will become, like pantomime in England, a seasonal affair with a very short season. Sad, but realities tend to produce real outcomes.
In the meantime, I hope we see many more. Going to the opera does make me think that, for the evening, I have gone into a different era, a past century, of sumptuousness that is anachronistic. If you have not seen an opera, I encourage you to go. It is one of the benefits of living in this great city, that we have the Metropolitan Opera along with our traditional theaters and museums. There is a place for red velvet in all of our lives.