January 7, 2013

artist date: the met at the movies

For a long time now, I have fancied myself an "opera-lover," without ever actually having been to the opera. Opera is one of the many passions I imagine myself pursuing one day, the kind of thing that I adore aesthetically, from a complete outsider's perspective, with no actual personal experience to back this up. The only opera I had experienced up until now was a performance of "The Marriage of Figaro" at my small Midwestern liberal arts university many, many years ago, and I hardly remember that performance. But each time I walk past Chicago's Civic Opera House on my commutes into the city, I remind myself of my goal to someday experience an opera there. 

My curiosity is often restricted by my lack of knowledge. The deep-seated desire to know ALL about a certain topic or experience holds me back from actually realizing the dreams themselves. And so my curiosity becomes enslaved to the particular order of discovery which I connect to a given dream. I have long imagined that someday, I would finally read a book about the history of opera, and acquire at least a novice-level of knowledge before daring to experience the opera itself. Someday, I would look up the schedule for a season of Lyric Opera of Chicago performances. Someday, I would research the entire season of operas and pick the one that seemed my favorite. I would listen to the opera highlights and read the libretto thoroughly in preparation for the experience. And finally, one majestic day, I would dress up in my finest and walk through the doors of the Civic Opera House for my very first night at the Opera. It was always going to be glorious. 
This dream has existed for at least twelve years now, since I moved back to Chicago and noticed the grandeur of the historic Opera House, since I heard tourists and society folks discussing this or that performance when I worked downtown. Sometime in the past couple of years, I heard about The Met Opera Live in HD, a program which broadcasts performances from New York's Metropolitan Opera onto movie theater screens across the world. A couple of local theaters are part of this screening experience, and I have noticed little schedule cards at the ticket windows advertising which operas will be playing each season. While this program piqued my interest, I pushed it down as secondary to my Grand Opera Plan, and filed it away as part of the would-be follow-up plan, when I would discover that I loved the Opera as much as I had hoped and develop an insatiable desire for as much opera as possible. 

But this year, I want to work on starting small. My grand-scale dreams are a regular issue for me, as I tend to build ideals up to be so big, so specific, so ordered that I am exhausted before I can even begin to realize them. (If there are any other ENFJ's out there, I know you know exactly what I'm talking about!! And perhaps there are other personality types who struggle with this too?) This is a pitfall that carries over into my writing, too, and one of the most paralyzing behaviors that often blocks me creatively. As I am getting back into my daily routines, and starting this brand-new year, I am trying to keep those words, "start small," at top of mind. Maybe, just maybe, I will actually follow through on some of these dreams this year. 

So I picked up the latest schedule for The Met Opera Live in HD, and thought this would be a really great way for me to start small! I decided to make an artist date of it, which I knew would help me keep my priorities and goals in mind for the experience: inspiration and openness to see where curiosity might lead my inner artist. The next opera scheduled was "Les Troyens" by Hector Berlioz. I was happy to see it was a French opera, since I am a little bit familiar with French language, but I did not allow myself any more "research" than to check my calendar and buy the ticket. The morning of the performance, I double-checked the time and noticed that the opera I had chosen happened to be over FIVE hours long. "Oh well," I thought, "Go big or go home!" 
When I arrived at the theater, the gentleman taking tickets handed me a synopsis page and I joined the small group that had gathered in the theater to await the performance. I settled in my seat, where I enjoyed a perfect view, since the theater wasn't very crowded. And I felt a stirring excitement at the fact that I was finally going to experience something I had anticipated for so long, even as I gave myself permission to be honest if it was something I did not end up loving. As the orchestra began tuning, and the broadcast's host explained the history of the opera we were about to experience, I became giddy and more eager than I had imagined! The broadcast was incredibly well-executed, with added perks of close-up camera angles and behind-the-scenes interviews with the opera's primary performers during each intermission (there were two, as was obviously necessitated by a five-hour performance, hehe). The synopsis, narration during intermissions, and subtitles made it simple to follow. The theater environment combined with excellent broadcast direction and high-quality HD filming truly felt like the next-best-thing to being there in person. My heart soared with the lovely score and breathtaking vocal performances, and I giggled as my fellow audience clapped for the performers who would never hear them. But I understood, because I felt like clapping, too. So much joy, so much pain, such an interesting intersection of music, theater, language, and design: I am truly an opera-lover, at least this particular opera.

I believe that curiosity sparks more curiosity, and that this is a principle gift of creative practice. And while I am still well-below even novice-level in my knowledge of opera, I learned a lot from "Les Troyens." The opera was based on Virgil's Aeneid, and is considered Berlioz's most ambitious work. The composer himself never witnessed a full performance of his work, since the first occasion of its entire performance in one evening, as he had intended, did not occur until 50 years after his death. Due to its length and scale, "Les Troyens" is rarely performed, and can only be performed as intended by certain opera houses. And we were privileged to witness performer Bryan Hymel making his Met debut in the role of Aeneas, which he executed beautifully despite his last-minute substitution into the role in the place of the performer originally cast. 

I am eager to learn more about Berlioz, to hear more of his work, to read the libretto of this opera, to listen to recordings of this amazing work, and to revisit Virgil's Aeneid, which I only read in school in excerpts. More than anything, I am excited to continue my Adventures in Opera, one small step at a time. 


  1. i really enjoyed reading this! I have recently become more interested in opera and like you, figured the first experience I'd have would be a fancy trip downtown to the Opera House. i'll definitely look into the HD Live Performances now.

    also, if you're looking for more books to read in your yearly challenge, you might want to check out Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It's a terrific novel and opera plays a huge role in the plot.

    1. So happy you are a fellow novice-opera-lover!! I read 'Bel Canto' years ago and really enjoyed it, but haven't revisited it since... perhaps it will need to join my 'Year of Reading' as a re-read? Thanks for reading and sharing... Happy Opera Hunting! xo