If you opened this post, thank you. I’m aware that opera-going isn’t as popular as seeking out Hamilton in New York, but perhaps by the end of this post you might have more interest in the opera experience in the Big Apple.
One vivid memory from my childhood was of my mother on Saturday afternoons, sequestered away in her room listening to the matinee performance of the Metropolitan Opera. Every opera sounded the same to me: boring. Now twice-widowed yet still willing and able to travel, she set her sights on a bucket list item: an Aria Opera Tour in New York City, with me as her companion.
As you can imagine, the thought of seeing 4 operas in 5 days wasn’t at the top of my bucket list, but this was my mom, and of course I agreed to go. Am I ever thankful I did! Read on to find out why I and so many others find this 400-year-old art form fascinating.
Watch World Famous Opera Singers
To sing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera means you are one of the best in the world. It doesn’t get any better than the Met. I was fortunate to see soprano superstar Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, reportedly her swan song of operatic performance.
The opera house interior is shaped like a horse shoe without hard angles to trap the sound waves.
This enables the singers to project their voices throughout the 3800-seat opera house without amplification (microphones). Incidentally, subtitles to the operas, usually sung in Italian, German or French, project the translation on the seat back in front of you, like a screen on an airplane. The plots of the opera are simple enough to understand with the help of subtitles.
Witness an Amazing Art Form
Opera in the Met combines singing, dancing, live orchestra, intricate backstage machinations and even live animals.
Horses on stage in Aida. Photo by Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.
The intricate orchestration of those parts by the best artists in the world in a LIVE performance cannot be equaled. So many things could go wrong, but don’t, and the professionals make it look easy.
See and Be Seen Outside the Opera House
The Revson Fountain at the plaza of Lincoln Center attracts a pre-show throng of opera, theatre and ballet goers.
The fountain is a world-class photo op, selfie station and people-watching destination. A palpable sense of excitement fills the air and it’s all part of the experience. A fellow tourist captured our moment.
Admire the Grandeur of the Opera House
The Metropolitan Opera moved to this current home in 1966 to great fanfare.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcos with Lady Bird Johnson and John D. Rockefeller III on opening night of the new Metropolitan Opera House, September 16, 1966
The Met needed a new, larger home to take advantage of new, rapidly developing technology in the field of stage production.
The interior design of the Opera House stopped me in my Stuart Weitzmans. From the grand staircase made of concrete and terrazzo
the lobby on opening night September 1966
to the Swarovski crystal chandeliers
the Viennese chandeliers were gifts from the Vienna State Opera with gratitude for our help in its post-WWII reconstruction
to the Marc Chagall murals
Marc Chagall’s The Sources of Music measures 30′ by 36′
I simply could not get enough. Photos of opera stars past and present hang in a massive grid on the lower level continue to tell the story of the Metropolitan Opera.
a photo of a young Leontyne Price hangs in the upper right quadrant
Renee Fleming’s image shown upper left quadrant
The lavish decor of the Opera House built in the style of the 1960’s transcends time. Its grandeur is incomparable and makes the experience one of a kind.
See the Magic Behind the Curtain on a Backstage Tour of the Opera House
To get the big picture of what happens behind the scenes of the opera, take a backstage tour from a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild. On our tour we saw the costume department, rehearsal stages, teams of stage hands moving sets to and fro and dressing rooms for the lead singers. Like a massive air craft carrier, it’s a city that never sleeps, with much of it happening below deck/back stage.
We couldn’t believe our luck to run into Latonia Moore
who sang the role of Aida that night and graciously showed us her dressing room, complete with piano and chaise lounge.
Appreciate the Modern Stagecraft
The Opera House celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 7. It relocated from its previous home in order to build a facility to take advantage of modern stagecraft technology and afford more storage for the multitude of sets in the company’s repertoire. What the opera goer sees in the horseshoe and stage is only a third of the building. The remaining 2/3 houses the sets, offices, singers’ dressing rooms and full-scale rehearsal rooms.
Click here for an interactive look Inside the Metropolitan’s Stage.
The opera performs at its maximum in a grand work like Aida, with stages lowered from the ceiling and dropping through the floor complete with singers, sets and animals. Aida pulls out all the stops, combining the singers astounding virtuosity, the orchestra’s energy and the backstage crew’s impeccable timing and set design into a Superbowl of operatic talent.
Marvel at the Teamwork
The biggest question I had before attending the opera was how can we see four shows on consecutive days? How in the world can the stages, equipment and lighting be rebuilt in less than a day? On the behind-the-scenes tour we learned the backstage runs 24/7 during the season. Three shifts of intricately scheduled moves enable three shows to be performed or rehearsed in one 24-hour period. We ran into master carpenter Stephen Diaz who was a minor celebrity to many on my trip because he choreographs his team of stagehands and is often seen in the HD live streams during the intermissions.
Stephen Diaz pictured fourth from left during backstage tour
Dine at the Grand Tier Restaurant
Dining at the Grand Tier Restaurant at the opera house affords exquisite ambiance, delicious 3-course pre-curtain prix fixe meal with a delicious bonus: desert and coffee are served at the first intermission. Dining under the great chandelier with views of the city through the enormous windows left an indelible memory with me.
Eat at the Lincoln Ristorante
Before our backstage tour we lunched at Lincoln Ristorante, now on my top ten favorite restaurants ever. Its modern design, glass walls, turfed roof and fully transparent kitchen
enchant the diner. The inventive Italian cuisine and impeccable service made me want to return again and again. It’s a scant one minute walk from the entrance to the opera house, passing by Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure sculpture in the reflecting pool.
four views of the Reclining Figure
Witnessing the rise of the crystal chandeliers in the auditorium
which signal the start of the opera (and remove them from spectator’s sight line) put the frosting on my experience at the Met.
So do you think you might want to attend an opera? You can dip your big toe in the water without trekking to NYC two ways to see if it’s for you. The live HD streaming of operas into local movie houses, called Met Live in HD, seem to be the most accessible means. I heard several of my fellow tour goers that the live streaming can be favorable in many ways to the watching at the opera house because you see the performance from the best seat in the house. The show fills the two intermissions with interesting backstage scenes and singer interviews. Lastly, the cost of attending a live streaming is about $22, a fraction of the live performance.
Secondly, central Virginia boasts two opera companies: Virginia Opera and the Charlottesville Opera. Virginia Opera performs October to April in Richmond, Norfolk and Fairfax. The Charlottesville Opera performs two operas in the summer at the Paramount Theater on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville.
Whether you see an HD performance or live opera in Virginia or New York City, it will be an unforgettable experience. Let me know if you go!
May 16, 2017