Copyright Vladimir Kagan 2010
I haven't always been an outsider…In the 60's Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Watson gave us their box on a regular basis. It was dead center at the old Metropolitan Opera House on West 39th Street. We were aficionados then. We bemoaned the move to Lincoln Center in 1965 but remained staunch Operagoers every week.
Monday Night was black tie and Erica and I reveled in the dress-up charade with special access to the Opera Guild's private room at intermission. These were glamorous times. Center row, orchestra…. These nights became known as Monday Odd, Monday Even and Monday New for the Artiste (nouveau riche). Of course, our subscriptions were for Odd and Even!
As the years passed, we found that either one of us would discretely dose off into a sublime sleep in the middle of the performance. We would nudge each other to keep from snoring or slumping to one side…which would have been a sure telltale of our little secret. To forestall future embarrassment, we changed our subscription to the back row of the orchestra so that our little indiscretion would go unnoticed. In those days there were no simultaneous translation screens from Italian to English. I can't imagine how we endured.
Over time, we missed more opera evenings, often without finding friends to take our tickets. Finally, the inevitable: We gave up our subscription.
Last week was our grand reentry into the Opera scene. It was opening night for the Palm Beach Opera, (a company that was founded in 1961). Black tie, ladies encrusted with jewelry…cocktails in a “Reserved for Donors Only” room…. Champagne with the cast backstage after the performance…. and yes, simultaneous translations to keep us alert.
It was a splendid performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni presented on a minimalist stage. Ever-changing translucent backdrops depicted heroic architectural freezes in monochromatic tones, Rococo ballrooms, and ethereal landscapes creating a mystical dreamlike, atmosphere. Gliding between them, the cast, dressed in medieval hoods and enormous black and aubergine cloaks “floated” in half step as in a dream. The opera was deliberately slow paced to dramatize the sinister plot and act as a foil for the devastating humor that Mozart envisioned.
The performers were brilliant…their powerful voices projected into the cavernous Kravis Performance Center…animated acting…much of it in contorting poses on the barren floor. The conductor was the Italian born Bruno Aprea, Stefano Poda created the exquisite costumes and stage directing and the talented cast came from a diverse background, many trained in Italy.
My take on the evening?.... It's been far too many years since we've been to the Opera. We have been ruined by fast moving Cinema, Theater and Musicals. Opera is an acquired taste that needs constant nurturing. Mozart's music is always evocative but the libretto drones on ad infinitum. Each Aria is a tour de force for the performing artist, evoking huge applause. The story line is both comical and sinister and while it was first performed in 1787, it still speaks to us today….. It is obvious that we need a refresher course in “soaking-up” Opera.