When my mother drove my siblings and me to our various lessons and appointments after school, she’d have the car radio tuned to the classical station. (There was only one.) Often, we’d listen to opera, and she would sing along.
Though she took us to the ballet and concerts, I never went to an opera until I was an adult. When I got married, we bought the “nosebleed” $5 seats to the New York City Opera, in the top tier and peered at the stage through binoculars. That season we saw a popular trifecta: Carmen, La Boheme, and La Traviata.
We’ve managed to go to an opera about once a year since those early days. We’ve upgraded our seating a bit too; though fondly remember those days in the upper rings.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s shared her love of opera in a recent AARP interview, and how her passion was cultivated by obtaining discount tickets and watching rehearsals. She mentioned how she now takes advantage of the Metropolitan Opera’s high definition transmissions aired in movie theaters around the world.
Though I’d heard about these broadcasts, I’d never attended any and was intrigued. Why not? Even though I live outside New York City and can attend a Met performance, I hadn’t made any plans to do so. That requires securing tickets and planning an entire day around the event.
The forecast was cold and gray. Perfect weather for a movie. We brought in our own sandwiches, bought popcorn and water, and sat in a nearly sold-out movie house to watch the Met’s performance of Georges Bizet’s (1838–1875) Les Pêcheurs de Perles (The Pearl Fishers). Set in an unnamed Far East nation, the story delivers everything you’d expect from a great opera: love vs. hate, vengeance vs. forgiveness, and despair vs. hope. Combine these themes with glorious music, costumes and sets, and it’s a treat.
It’s different in the movies. Cameras zoom to close-ups; there’s no need for opera glasses. During intermission, while the live audience stretches its legs, the Met presents backstage tours and interviews. We heard from the conductor, the stars, and some company dancers who for this production perform as underwater divers, hanging from a complicated wiring system.
There’s something to be said however for being part of the communal experience of a live audience, bursting into applause and seeing people throw bouquets on stage during curtain calls.
Yet opera at the movies provides an excellent alternative. The HD program, in its 10th year, presents operas on more than 2,000 screens in 70 countries across the globe. Audiences include school groups, hopefully inspiring young people to sing. And music is a universal language. The production we saw featured an Italian conductor, an Argentinean director, a German soprano, a Polish baritone, an American tenor, and an enormous cast and crew representing all ethnicities. Perhaps if the world saw more operas, people would figure out how to get along.