It was just not the name of the opera that put us off. We had to be there at 9 a.m., and when the Live in HD Host, Joyce Didonanto, went on to say that we were in for a five hour treat, I saw Bonnie raise her hand (she was in the row ahead of me) and count with her fingers, one, two, three, four, five. I thought she was trying to figure out what time we would be leaving the theatre, for that is what I was trying to figure out. There went my plan to pick up a few groceries and get home for a nap before returning to the Shuswap Film Society’s showing of Farewell, My Queen at 5 p.m. Even though I make resolutions that go like – only plan one big event in the day, I can’t stop myself from filling in possible periods of quiet in the day with an unexpected chance to go somewhere I have never been, or see something I might not get to see again.
I don’t remember seeing another Berlioz opera before, this one modelled on Gluck, Berlioz’s idol, the host said. In an attempt at honestly, either Kelvin, Bonnie or I asked the question after both events, “Tell me honestly, did you go to sleep”. I have no shame in answering that my eyes need to close for a rest. I only believe that I have actually been asleep if there has been a costume change when I open my eyes again. In this Live in HD production the lighting designer used a change of colour on the costumes, making them go from purple to blue, so I don’t know if that counts as going to sleep or not.
On leaving the theatre I gave eye contact to a woman who sat alone at the back, far right, in a row that is only one chair. She was struggling to put her coat on. She looked back at me and had to say something. “Breathtaking. Marvellous.”
I replied, “And available for people in 60 countries around the world, even available here at the Shuswap. The only criteria is if a person can find the $24 for the ticket.”
“If only they knew,” she said. Yes, five hours is a long time to sit – two hours longer than church, which of course is short. Some gems in the production were exquisite. Deborah Voigt as Cassandra (Brunnhilde in last year’s Ring Cycle) was the heroine who took her life before Act I was over – in fact there was a mass suicide of women before the curtain fell. For once I was glad that Dalton and Ceilidh were not with me.
As you might know, I have seen Les Mis 3 times in the last 2 weeks here at the Shuswap. I told Bonnie to watch for a different in the timbre of the opera voices – as opposed to what we have been listening to in musical theatre. Movies have the edge when it comes to perfect scene editing. Live in HD has the edge with the most perfect sound. Susan Graham played Dido against Bryan Hymel’s Aeneas in the second act. The people in our theatre clapped – not just at the curtain calls – but after Bryan Hymel’s aria (among other moments when they broke into spontaneous appluse) – a clapping that just wouldn’t die down at the Met and which continued a long time in our little Classic Salamar Theatre.
There is a gentle camaraderie between the 25 theatre goers from the Shuswap and the man who seems to manage this event. Even the ticket seller says she knows everyone who comes to these shows. “Was that a turkey sandwich I smelled,” he poked at one of the patrons. “No, ham,” she said, cutting him off to further conversation on that point. For some, five hours is too long to go without real food. Bonnie, one the other hand, having missed breakfast, was going full out on popcorn and Skittles. When we finally stopped to eat at the delicatessen inside of the Uptown Askews at 4 pm, she went right for sushi and didn’t even stop to say the blessing. We might think about either having a full breakfast before we go next time, or getting in on the ham sandwich crowd.
Bonnie thanked me for reminding her of how much she really loves opera. Her friends have been telling her that you have to be exposed to it as a child to like opera. I have a more optimistic take on that. I think you have to expose yourself to opera as an adult. Opera is hard. For all of us. I have a music degree and still I don’t go cold. My homework includes all of the following: I listen on utube to famous clips that I will be hearing during the opera; I read what Wikipedia has to say about the plot; I search out a New York Times Review of the performance (not just any performance, but of the one I will be seeing Live in HD); I finish by practising the spelling of either the names of the singers or the production and set designers.
On the drive away from the theatre Bonnie said, “Thank you Neubauer Family Foundation for your generous grant as a founding sponsor. We love you.” I agree. Without those sponsors the price of a ticket would double. Right now? Five hours of opera for $25. A deal.
Next Metropolitan Opera HD Live: Maria Stuarda. January 19. 9:55 PST.