Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Andy & The Met

The first time I laid eyes on the Metropolitan Opera was in August of 1993, when I came to New York to audition for the undergraduate program at the Manhattan School of Music. I was given a private backstage tour by the retired Met stalwart baritone Theodor Uppman, who sang there for decades in a variety of roles, most notably as Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, Pelleas in Pelleas et Mélisande, Marcello in La Bohème, and Papageno in Die Zauberflöte.

Mr. Uppman – who created the title role in the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd – was an old friend of the family; he lived next door to my mother when she was a little girl in North Hollywood, California, and my great-grandmother used to baby-sit his kids. I met him for the first time on that trip, and he was gracious enough to show me the cavernous auditorium, the vast stage and some of the rehearsal spaces during a quiet weekday in the off-season. He was a wonderful mentor to me during my years in conservatory; sadly, he passed away last year.

I “discovered” opera my senior year in high school; that year, and during my freshman year at Occidental College, I reserved every Saturday morning for the live Met radio broadcasts; I always followed along in a score from the library. The Met was this magical place on a magical island full of amazing, exciting people, which every night of the week boasted a top-class performance filled with in-demand singers from around the world. It seemed too wonderful to be real.

I arrived in New York on January 4, 1994. The very next night I was in the Family Circle at the Met, attending a performance of Il barbiere di Siviglia with Ruth Ann Swenson, Frank Lopardo, Mark Oswald, Enzo Dara and Jan-Hendrik Rootering. (It was supposed to be Thomas Hampson as Figaro, but he was ill; and no, I did not have to do any research to look up the cast, I remember every minute of it, even these 13 years later. I remember that Lopardo interpolated a gleaming high-C at the end of “Ecco ridente,” and noted that he hadn’t during the radio broadcast a week earlier.) I went back on the 8th, too, to see Les Troyens, but don’t remember nearly as much because it was fucking boring as hell. But I digress.

Since then, I have attended over 200 performances there. I used to keep a list, but I let it slide a while back and lost track. So many nights stand out in memory: three complete Ring Cycles, Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s debut, my idol Mirella Freni in Adriana Lecouvreur and Fedora (in which I later appeared with her in Zürich), Pavarotti in Tosca (twice), Andrea Chenier and Un Ballo in Maschera; Domingo in…oh, let’s see, Otello, Queen of Spades, Parsifal, Walküre, Carmen, Simon Boccanegra, La Forza del Destino, Idomeneo, and others. Kiri te Kanawa in Arabella and Nozze di Figaro; Hermann Prey in Fledermaus; Gwyneth Jones and Leonie Rysanek in Elektra…well, I could go on and on. While I was in school, I used to show up in standing room in the back of the Family Circle at least once a week.

Tonight I am heading back, for what promises to be the last time before I move out of New York. I am going with a close friend, someone I met during that first year at MSM all those long years ago. The opera is Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, with Angela Gheorghiu (whom I’ve seen in Bohème, Turandot, Traviata, Carmen, L’Elisir d’Amore, and Faust), Marcello Giordani (who starred in the second live opera I ever saw, La Fille du Régiment in Portland, and whose Met debut I attended, though I forget whether it was Traviata or Bohème), Ferruccio Furlanetto (whom I’ve never heard live), and Thomas Hampson, who’d better show up.


Gino said...

have fun.
i know, thats kind of expected.

DJRainDog said...

I feel honoured that I got to share one of those trips to the Met with you. I hope you'll find something that enchants and inspires you in a similar way in Portland -- or wherever Portland leads you.

Jade said...

It's hard to leave a place that you have a love/hate relationship with. When I knew I was leaving Portland I took a few weekends to just wander around photographing, soaking in as much as I could. I was excited to leave, but sad to go. Enjoy your trip to The Met!

The Law Fairy said...

Here's how you're so much more cultured than I am.

When I read the title of your post, I immediately thought of Elton John. And now I have his stupid song stuck in my head.

Dammit. I wish I was thinking of catchy opera songs.

David in KC said...

How fortunate you are to have seen and heard so many great singers and great operas. It's a life-enriching experience - your neurons have been permanently affected for the better.

Although it's certainly not the same, the Met's HD broadcasts aren't bad. I saw "Eugene Onegin" last week and was blown away. The experience is sort of a hybrid one, but better than I thought it would be.

Re: Simon Boccanegra - I saw it 42 years ago standing in the Family Circle at the old Met. All I remember is that Zinka Milanov and Richard Tucker (I think) sang in it. I don't have your aural memory (or any of your memory, for that matter).