‘I’ ON CULTURE
For culture lovers, there is a wonderful opportunity to see opera without paying unbelievably high prices. As a child, my mother frequently took me (perhaps dragged me) to the Metropolitan Opera. While my contemporaries were “rocking ‘round the clock,” I was listening to music often a century old (and rocking when my mom was not around). As Richard Gere told Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, either you love opera, or it leaves you cold. I fall into the first category, but seeing live opera is very expensive.
Sitting at the top of the house for most live opera performances can be quite expensive. Even here in Palm Beach County at the Kravis Center, it cost us $50 for two seats so far from the stage that it’s better watching on television. Television, of course, is limited by the size of the screen as well as the quality of the sound. And the $50 tickets, for two seats in the last couple of rows, is part of a subscription — it costs more if you just want to see the one opera.
However, one great old constant, the Saturday broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera back in New York, continues. When I was growing up, my sisters and I knew to stay quiet and not bother our mother when the opera was playing on the radio.
Now it comes to us on the big screen and for a lot less money than it costs for a live opera. Even better, because it has been filmed, we see everything close up with theater-quality sound. For less than the cost of the worst ticket at most live performances, you can hear and see the best performers in the world. You can even eat during the performances and, if you need to visit the restroom, you will not be disturbing the singers.
Even better, during the summer, they present a handful of reruns of earlier performances for really reduced prices. For $12.50 a ticket, my wife and I (as well as friends) were able to drive a short distance to a local movie theater, park for free, buy some popcorn, sit back and watch some wonderful performances.
This past summer we saw Carmen, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, three of the most popular operas of the classic repertoire. The casts were incredibly good and generally looked the parts — a very important element. I remember seeing La Traviata as a boy, watching a soprano who looked like she could play nose tackle for the Dolphins, playing a woman suffering from tuberculosis. And the male lead was about half her size.
In the Carmen we saw, the lead soprano was beautiful. We watched this lovely French opera by Bizet, one of the two most popular operas ever, with music such Carmen’s aria “Habanera (L’amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle)” and the famous “Votre Toast,” also known as the Toreador song. As the leads sang their way toward glory (and death; operas have at least one major death along the way), our opera newcomers were carried along and even bought tickets for the later operas as they left.
Verdi’s Il Trovatore has a very convoluted plot involving stolen babies, a contest for the hand of a beautiful woman, gypsy curses and, of course, death. The famous tenor Caruso once said that it was easy to cast the opera: “Just find the four best singers in the world.” The music is intense; the most famous tune is “The Anvil Chorus (Vedi Le Fosche Notturne).” It was not as easy to love as the others, but it is one of the greatest Italian operas.
Verdi also wrote La Traviata, which joins Carmen as most popular. It is the opera that Gere took Roberts to see in the movie. The story is easily recognizable; it is Camille (a major reason it was used in that particular movie since the soprano is a courtesan). A couple of the numbers, “Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici” and “Sempre Libera,” are very recognizable. And, of course, the soprano dies, singing gloriously to the end.
There will be new performances coming this year. At this time, prices have not yet been, set but just about every other Saturday between October to May there will be a new presentation. If you love opera, this is something that should not be missed. If you are not certain, or you just want to try it, come as well. It might become a new passion.
Learn more at www.metoperafamily.org.