Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Ours Is Not To Reason Why... Ours Is But To Do Or Die
So I'm being a bit dramatic, sue me. Drama was the the reason we went to New York City and drama did not disappoint while we were there.
Drama One: My brother Stephen (stage pronunciation ~ Stĕ' făn), made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman). I don't really think he considered this a dramatic event as he has sung his role many times in Europe; but his mother did, which is why we somehow ended up with over a dozen playbills. Opera playbills don't usually tell you much but they do give a pretty good synopsis of the plot line. This was the first time my folks had watched their son perform in full costume in a complete opera. Yes, they've seen him in concert with the Chicago Symphony and many times on stage when he travelled with Andrew Lloyd Webber's, Phantom of the Opera, but never in a "real" opera. They had never been to the Met or New York City for that matter. Nyssa and I have been fortunate to see him in three other operas in Austria and Italy, as well as an obscene number of performances of Phantom, but this was a dramatic first for Mom and Dad. They are so proud of their son and with their health issues and the abysmal lack of handicap accommodations in Europe, this was probably their best chance of seeing him in action. So I took them.
Drama Two: The Met itself is full of drama. Not only the actors or the backstage goings on, but the building and the grounds. In Europe, everyone goes to the opera, even children; it is a family thing, ordinary and without the glamour and pretentiousness of the Met. Yet, the opera houses of Europe are beautiful and old with great character and the opera goers may dress to the nines or casually, as many do here, but the feeling is very different.
Walking into a European opera house gives the sense of putting on a comfortable well worn pair of shoes or wrapping in a familiar soft warm blanket. Walking up the steps from the busy city street and across the vast fountained plaza to the wide doors and the tall reflective arched glass windows felt more like entering a museum of modern art; ornate and rich to be sure, but lacking that ambiance only real age can give. Don't get me wrong, the Met is beautiful with deep burgundy wall coverings and carpet and brass fixtures and handrails. It is known for it's crystal lights affectionately known as the "sputniks"; crystalline rods of variable length that protrude from the central round ball of light. These retract up into the ceiling as the lights dim for a performance.
Drama Three: The people around the Met. Watching those headed into the opera was amazing. One lady was standing outside asking for an extra ticket... yet, tickets were still available from the box office. I should have directed her back toward the street where another person was trying to sell a ticket as we arrived in the taxi. No children... I didn't see anyone that was likely to be under the age of 18... in Europe there were kids at the opera as young as seven. Then a couple walked by right out of the Hollywood glamour of the 40's. He was gray-haired, thin and distinguished in a black tux... without tails or top hat, but with a neatly tied satin black bow tie. She, from the back, was ageless... blonde hair upswept into a French twist, slender; she wore a pale blue floor length gown and a silver gray fox stole. From the front, it was clear that she was trying to hang on to her youth as the blonde coif did not match her face. She had had her share of plastic procedures but still age was winning. This couple stood out from the crowd... a bit of the past displaced in time.
I can't leave out the "other" people around the Met. Those that wait patiently at the stage door in that underground corridor to the side of Lincoln Center. The groupies, the fans and sometimes the fanatics. They wait with camera, playbills, pens and sometimes other objects in hand... wanting to grab a picture with the performers or the conductor. This night there were several.... one, a wild eyed and wild haired woman holding a large notebook that looked to have multiple tabs sticking out from different pages. She ran to catch the poor Japanese conductor and having him cornered started taking pictures, trying to get an autograph and asking him all sorts of questions. He finally managed to get free of her and she ran back to the stage door for the next snag. Some of these people follow the singers around the world... literally... but I will say no more as they also read the blogs.
Drama Four: The opera itself. The Flying Dutchman is a strange story of a ghost ship and cursed captain who is forced by Satan to travel the world, only coming ashore every seven years to search for a woman who will be true to him unto death. Only then can he be free to die himself and be at peace. His story is a myth among the sailing community, his ghostly picture hung in home ports where the waiting women and girls can view it daily. The sailor, Daland, meets the Dutchman and greedy for the wealth and jewels he is offered, bids him follow his ship home where he will give his daughter, Senta, to him in marriage.
Erik, a young hunter, is passionately in love with Senta and it is thought by most of the villagers that he will marry her. However, while waiting for her father to return, she has become mesmerized by the picture of the Dutchman, mysteriously drawn to it... falling in love with the mythical man. Erik doesn't stand a chance. Then her father returns with the Dutchman in the flesh and she pledges her love to him forever. Erik has dreamed that Senta will go with the Dutchman and die with him to release his soul from torment and in a last ditch effort to save her he meets her on the dock, pleading with her to marry him instead. She tells him she is steadfast and devoted to the Dutchman but in a gentle last embrace she wishes him well. Unfortunately, the Dutchman sees this embrace and assumes she has broken her vow to him. He angrily climbs back on his ship to leave and Senta in hysterics, runs up the dock and throws herself off the cliff to her death below. The ghost ship suddenly disappears as the sun rises, leaving Senta's father and Erick shocked and speechless on shore.
My brother played Erik, the hunter. He didn't die in this one... usually he dies in about half of his roles. But, I felt sorry for Erik, he really lost the girl before he ever came on stage for the first time. As for Senta, it was remarkable that she ran up the stairs and flung herself off to die and that was that. Usually, in opera as in Shakespeare, someone who has been smothered or poisoned or stabbed and is dying... well, they must sing an aria or speak a long soliloquy before the final breath is breathed. That can go on for quite a while. Yet, here.. Senta simply jumped off the cliff and the rest were left with mouths gaping. Very dramatic.
I think my parents had a wonderful time. Anytime Mom sat down and found someone to talk to, she always let them know that her son was in this opera. Ah, proud motherhood always triumphs. But wait, I forgot about one last drama...
The sanitation police. Never heard of them? Oh, they do exist. When I retrieved the van and drove back around to the hotel loading zone to pick up the luggage and my parents and say goodbye to Stephen, I saw that ALL the cars that had been parked on the right side of the street were now double parked on the left side. Hmmm, I wondered, that is certainly strange. So I went on down and stopped and quickly started putting the bags in the van. It wasn't a minute into the process when I heard the sound of whirring brushes and the street sweeper went by me on the left. Then another ten seconds and a car with flashing amber lights was sitting in front of ours and two guys got out. Did you know that New York City has a car that follows the street sweeper around all day and if any car in in their lane of sweeping they stop and yell and give tickets? Stephen went to talk to them and I kept trying to herd Mom and Dad and the luggage into the van as quickly as possible and hug Nyssa and say goodbye to Stephen as quickly as possible and leave as quickly as possible before they could write a ticket. I think he talked them out of the ticket and we left quickly. Really, why pay two guys to do this? That loading zone in front of the hotel was clean enough... I had seen the little hotel man out there with a pressure washer, rinsing off the sidewalk and the street space the day before. He did a better job than the sanitation department! But, now you know... if you EVER see all the cars double parked on one side of the street... BEWARE... the SANITATION POLICE are lurking in the shadows.
We went, we saw, we conquered and made it back alive. All in all, a good trip.
(end of post)