Where I reminisce about my grand-dad while thinking about the opera
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my grandfather lately. Maybe it’s because it was recently father’s day. Maybe it’s because I really think he’d get a kick out of holding my children. Maybe it’s because of recent conversations where we cherish each & every old picture from our grandparents . . . yet, our own grandchildren are going to see our lives chronicled in painstaking detail thanks to blogging, and Facebook, and the Twitter, and whatever other social media venues we chose to engage.
So, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about my grandfather when I read about the Suniverse field trip to Bizet’s Carmen, and I start thinking about my grandfather even more. See, when I was in high school, I was a music nerd. There were Dungeons & Dragons nerds. And comic book nerds. And book-book nerds. And
Young Life religious nerds. And art nerds. They all got laid way more than I did. My want for music of any type never helped me with the ladies, but that never deterred me.
By the time I got to middle school, it was obvious that my love of music wasn’t some passing fad. My grandfather pounced on this. He had season tickets to The Metropolitan Opera House1 that he was considering giving up because he had nobody to go with, except, now he had a regular partner.
The first opera we went to was Tosca. Like a middle schooler, I did absolutely no research into things. What got me, though, was that the opera house was packed. There were scalpers selling tickets. I saw one ticket exchange hands for $500. I was in shock. I knew there were people who liked opera, but I didn’t think it was quite that popular.
We went to an opera about once a month (maybe it was more, maybe less . . . I really don’t know. As I started playing in more prestigious orchestras, I started knowing some of the pit musicians. For example, one of the regular bassists was the conductor of the New Jersey All State Orchestra my junior year. When I went to talk to him during an intermission of a Russian production of Macbeth (easily the strangest opera I’ve seen in The Met), he took me on a tour backstage. The next opera we saw, Fidelio, I got to meet Marilyn Horne.
Easily my favorite opera moment, though, just so happens to involve Placido Domingo, again. It was just before Christmas, and we were seeing the The Barber of Seville. The program listed the part of Figaro as to be announced. When Figaro was first introduced to the crowd, “hey, it’s Placido Domingo.” Seriously, the crowd cheered for minutes straight – you couldn’t hear a thing.
The next scene, when Figaro entered, though, he was played by Luciano Pavarotti. The rest of the opera, they just traded parts. It was a gimmick, but a gimmick that I absolutely loved.
When I went off to college, my grandfather ended his season ticket membership. The last conversation I had with him about the opera was the summer before my sophomore year. He knew that they were going to put the silly little translation boxes in front of each seat, in the hopes that, having the opera “in English” would help attendance (for a show with a Domingo, every seat was sold – for most performances, though, they were lucky to have 2/3 capacity for a Saturday matinee). His argument was, if you’re going to properly appreciate a work of art, you owe it to yourself to do a little bit of research. If you know the story of an opera, you don’t need the translation – it’s all right there, acted out. The fact that you might not understand the words actually can help you understand the meaning . . . you might not get a joke, but you’ll get every emotion. If you’re following a TelePrompTer, well, you stop paying attention to the theater.
My grandfather knew what he was talking about.
1 Having grown up near New York City, “The Met,” is a common phrase. I always assume “The Metropolitan Opera House,” when the person who mentions it always means “The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
2 The baseball fan in me always wants to write “Polanco” after writing “Placido.” This is stuff you need to know.