Sunday, October 25, 2009


Ever since I moved back to New York, I have had it in the back of my mind that I want to join one of the young patron programs for either the Metropolitan Opera or the New York Philharmonic. Seeing the Met's new production of Madame Butterfly a few years ago tipped me in the direction of the Met. But thinking about something and doing it are often two different things. Each year I would get the beautiful pamphlets in the mail outlining the upcoming season and I never did anything about it. Either time would just slip by or I lamented that I didn't have anyone to go with.

Until now.

In September a couple of things happened to push me into finally doing something. First, I was watching the news and they ran a story on how people booed at the premier of the new production of Puccini's Tosca. They booed! After reading more about it in the NY Times, I decided I had to see the new production. I mean, sure, New Yorkers have no qualms booing the Yankees and the Knicks when they don't play up to expectations but the opera?

My curiosity was piqued.

A woman who I know through my pilates class works at the Met so I asked her about the performance and inquired about the Young Associates program. I assumedit was too late to join but she said I had plenty of time to still join and that Tosca was the first opera on the Young Associates program.

So I signed up! And after one performance, I am wondering what has taken me so long. Why didn't I do this sooner?

Prior to each opera, the Young Associates have a cocktail party. I felt a little awkward on my own but didn't have to wait too long to meet others who were there solo as well. I met a children's librarian and a radiologist who were very nice. I also met a pretentious and socially awkward PhD candidate who I could not maintain a conversation with to save my life. His PhD is in history and I tried to relate by mentioning that was my college major but he basically snubbed that. I tried discussing my favorite public art piece in the City - a Chagall murual - which we were standing directly under. He leered awkwardly and seemed disinterested even as he mentioned that he needs to renew his membership to the Met (the art Met) and I got the impression he is checking cultural boxes.

I did get two compliments on my dress, so I chalked the cocktail party up as a success and made my way to my seat.

Are you curious about the booing? There wasn't any booing on my night, though the controversial production elements were still present. In the first act the tenor Mario Cavaradossi is painting a portrait of Mary Magdalene in a church. His lover Floria Tosca comes in and jealously questions him about the resemblence of the painting to another woman. In a jealous rage, Tosca slashes the painting. Someone near me gasped. I suppose if you were Catholic that would be the sort of thing to set you off and prompt booing.

The final scene in the first act was my second favorite part of the entire opera, even if it also contained another shocking moment. The baritone Scarpia is the chief of the secret police and acts as the villain for the opera. Scarpia plays on Tosca's jealousies in an effort to get his will. The Act closes with a chilling baritone aria wherein Scarpia expresses his debased inner thoughts on conquering Tosca layered on top of a monumental religious procession which is scored for triple chorus and augmented orchestra with bells, organ and two cannons in celebration of a victory over Napoleon. The music swells with Scarpia's lurid longing even as the religious processional is layered underneath and the religious procession slowly walks toward the front of the stage. It was incredibly powerful with bass trombones blaring, cymbals crashing, timpani rumbling, Scarpia's deep, resonate voice booming and it ends suddenly with Scarpia taking the statue of Mary in an embrace and kissing it.

My favorite part of the opera was Cavardossi's aria as he awaits execution. He sings of his love for Tosca and is overcome with dispair and Puccini's haunting melody perfectly encapsulates his emotions. Puccini has a remarkable ability to write a melody that pulls you out of yourself so that you feel like you are hovering above everything - you forget the chair you are sitting in, the people surrounding you, the head that is too big in front of you and forget to breathe as you bask in the moment with the music holding you there. "E lucevan le stelle" starts with a mournful clarinet and builds with strings. The tenor's voice and the swelling of the violins held me captive and faded too quickly. Just as the music was fading, while I was still floating outside myself somewhere, a voice shouted "Bravo!" and my soul crashed back into my body with a start that signaled it was time to applaud - a seemingly inept expression of the gratitude that was swelling in my heart for the privilege of listening.


Tiffany said...

Very beautifully written. I think I would like the opera, at least as you describe it!

Emily said...

Ooh, Tosca. A "haunting melody" is such a perfect way to describe it. I'm so glad you went, had a good time, and wrote so beautifully about it! I feel like I was there with you. (And I apologize for the history PhD student-- many of my kind are socially inept!)

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