The first Metroplitan Opera production I attended was a performace of Verdi’s Nabucco when I was 13. The soprano fell on the massive steps, huge gasps rang throughout the hall, the slave chorus got a standing ovation and received more “bravos” than anyone, James Levine was conducting, Sam Rami and Wendy White were singing. It was the opera exeripence. Huge wigs, cast of thousands, bravos, and, most importantly, glorious singing.
It was the first time I ever felt really captured by the entire experience of Opera. Now this was not my first opera I had ever seen. Oh no. I have been made to watch operas since I was three when I was forced to watch Zefferilli’s Tosca with Domingo, Behrens, and Tajo. My father had instituted “Opera Night”1, which took place on Friday nights. I certainly did not appreciate3 my parents’ enthusiam to culture and educate me on great music and opera4. Now, as a very low functioning adult, I realized that maybe I should reeducate myself when it comes to opera. So, on a recent trip to NYC I decided to revisit the MET and see Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.
What I didn’t know at the time is that this production, to put it ineloquently, was a big deal. Not because of the singers, not on account of the production team, and not because of the music. James Levine was returning to conduct after a two year long hiatus.
I don’t think it mattered what did or didn’t happen on stage because as soon as Levine was lifted to greet the audience before the overture, it was already a truimph. People were standing up and yelling bravo. There were whisltes and cheers and the music hadn’t even started yet. The personality, the history, and the return of James Levine was the absolute center point for the night. Everything and everyone focused on him. Levine and Mozart have a symbiosis that ebbs out of the orchestra pit and swells thorugout the hall. Levine knows how to conduct Mozart. Nothing is too much and nothing needs to be added.
I can tell you about the production but, I am not sure if it matters. Humor me because I am going to tell you about it anyways. The story is set in Naples, and multiple screens were used that made the air look heavy with humidity. Danielle de Niese had the best entrance of the night. As she is singing about how awful life is as a ladies maid, she pulls the two story house of Fiordiligi and Dorabella across the stage. The tenor Matthew Polenzani was wonderful. Everyone time he finished singing there was an eruption of bravos and furious clapping. He deserved it. He sang with such an understading of the text, I didn’t feel the need to read the surtitles. He translated the text for me with his performance.
The entire family circle was filled with highschool aged children who were dressed like they were going to a spring formal. I was so confused to see a horde of 16 year olds dressed in suspenders or glittery dresses filing into the MET. I was taken aback. Is this what Manhattan children do on Wednesday nights? Did I take a wrong turn and end up in a mall? I don’t know what possessed these children to go see the opera but, I am certainly glad that they were there. Opera is usually ostracized as something for old, dusty people who probably use ear trumpets. To see highschool aged children who most likely know more about Kanye and Miley than Mozart at the opera was unexpected and pretty cool.
My only real complaint about the evening has to do with the chandeliers. Usually the explosively beautiful chandeliers are hanging down almost at the same level as the balcony until they are dramtcially lifted up to the ceiling. This is what I was most looking forward to when I was 13 at Nabucco and this is what I was excited about seeing again at 25 for “Cosi”. But, the chandeliers didn’t slowly rise to the ceiling. Maybe they were broken that night? I am not sure but, if they are broken and they need someone to take one of the chandeliers put my name on that list! I want one of those chandeliers to be hanging over my kitchen6 table.
None of this information I have given you really matters. Cosi Fan Tutte was a success for the MET. It didn’t matter who was singing or what was being performed. James Levine has returned and that’s all that matters.
1. It is here how I would like to tell you how outrageous it was for my father to have enforced “Opera Night” when I was three years old. Tosca2 is in Italian. I couldn’t read the surtitles. Why was I watching this? I had no clue what was happening. I thought it was so bizarre (but my three year old self probably just yawned and said I don’t get it). Why is that man is sad? Is he in love with that painting? That woman in the painting isn’t all that pretty. Why can’t I watch Nickelodeon?!
2.I have since rewatched this production and it is perfect. There is absolutely nothing in terms of direction, costumes, set design, movement, acting that needs to be changed. When I say that it is a perfect production, I mean without hyperbole that is is perfection.
3. While my friends were out at the skating rink, I was watching “The Ring Cycle”. Just what every six year old wants to do…
4. One of these Opera Nights included a PBS5 viewing of “Madame Butterfly”. Mom and Dad’s friend Wendy White was performing in the role of Suzuki and her daughter was playing the little boy. If you haven’t seen the opera, stop reading because I am about to spoil it for you. At the end of this production, Madame Butterfly wraps a blindfold around her son and puts him on a swing. She gives him a few pushes and then slowly walks into her home, where we could still see her shiloutte behind the screen door. She raises a knife and plunges it into her chest and then crashes into the screen door. This freaked me out. (Maybe there is a more eloquent way to state that). Why was a five year old watching this? (This is another question to ask my parents). By the by, the little boy continues to swing while his mother lies dying. Talk about macabre!
5. Remember when PBS broadcasted opera?!
6. Seriously. I WANT/NEED one of those chandeliers. I have never left so passionate about lighting fixtures in my whole life. Can you help me?