Written by Art Petrosemolo
In late January, a group of 16 Garden Spot Village residents spent a Wednesday afternoon immersed in grand opera watching and listening to Giacomo Puccini’s opera classic Tosca. It was a much-anticipated new production by Sir David McVicar replacing a maligned production that had been playing for the past several seasons at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
The new production was indeed grand from the sets (Rome in the early 1800s) to the costumes to the performances. Soprano Sonya Yoncheva played the fiery diva Tosca and Victor Grigolo her painter-patriot-lover Mario. And Zeljko Lucic was the imposing and villainous police chief Scarpia.
My wife Tina and I are opera fans and, living for two decades in coastal New Jersey, we were Met season ticket holders for several years seeing as many as seven productions in the marvelous house at Lincoln Center.
Well, it seems there are a lot of opera fans at Garden Spot Village and many knowledgeable ones who were excited when Tina worked with Colleen Musselman to pull together a trip to the encore performance in HD at Penn Cinema.
As thrilling as it is to be at the Met live, especially at a full house in a Saturday matinee, many times you are so far away you do not see the facial expressions of the actors/singers. Not so in the HD version…. With cameras covering very angle, you are up-close-and-personal and right in the face of (Tosca) Sonya Yoncheva several times and even catch a small smile as she reacts to an ovation from the sold-out and appreciative Met audience at the live, January 27 performance. Tenor Grigolo (Mario) also was in fine form and gave a spirited performance.
This production, commissioned by Met GM Peter Gelb, has been one of controversy as they lost conductor James Levine to sexual harassment charges and experienced defections of the tenor and soprano leads. No matter, the replacements were excellent and we all enjoyed the opera in comfy seats, crunching popcorn and watching—between acts—interviews and set work. It was a fun afternoon and my wife Tina, who hosted the trip, says there are three or four more planned for the coming months.
So, OK Art, thanks for the opera update but you don’t look like an opera fan….. Well, my connection to Grand opera goes back decades. My mother always was an opera fan and listened to it regularly during the Saturday afternoon Texaco broadcasts. Her sister, a Yale music school graduate, also had it in her genes and it was in mine too but I didn’t know it until I reached adulthood.
When I was just a pre-teen in the mid-1950s, my mother obtained two orchestra seats to a production at the original Met house (Broadway and 39th St.) in Manhattan and she was excited to introduce me to live opera (I must have shown interest) while my dad would keep my younger sister busy at a movie. Well, we got to the front door for the Saturday matinee and I balked like a thoroughbred in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. I made an awful fuss (I can remember that) so finally my mother said, “So be it.” She raised her arm with the ticket and 10 people converged on her to buy it and in less than 30 seconds she was through the doors and I was on the street off to some movie. I don’t think my mother ever mentioned it again but, especially in my adult years as I became a loyal opera fan, I have thought about it often. The new Met house opened at Lincoln Center in 1966 and when I walked into it for the first time some 20 years ago, I was blown away. To this day I regret that I never got a chance to see a production in the original 1883 building on Broadway….but the reason was my own foolishness.
Opera trips when we lived in New Jersey were terrific but expensive. Tickets in the back of the orchestra or the mezzanine (if you could get them) were $150+ each. And Tina never liked just taking the train into the city (an hour) for lunch, opera and home. We spent the night at the Cornell Club or the New York Yacht Club, had dinner at someplace nice and came home after breakfast on Sunday. Our 24-hour opera jaunts were $1,000 mini-vacations and I shake my head now, but with both of us working full-time, we never gave it a thought.
I had a friend during those years whose husband was an archivist at the Met and we had a wonderful pre-opera tour one Saturday and got a chance to see some costumes and memorabilia from the 1800s and 1900s. I also introduced my guide/guard from Afghanistan (2006)—which is a whole other story—to the Met when he visited. Sadly, grand opera wasn’t for Qais but he lasted one full act before walking around the adjoining Lincoln Center streets.
Tosca was my first opera in two years and it just rekindled my love for the genre. If you are shaking your head, consider joining us on one of the upcoming trips (check the schedule in the Garden Variety). The cost is $25 for the ticket and transportation and it is well worth it. Not being scrunched into 1960s seats with 2,500 other opera fanatics and munching popcorn while listening to timeless music and watching great theater (someone always dies and usually tragically) is great Wednesday afternoon entertainment.