Welcome to my shop, let me cut your mop
Like many North Americans of a certain age, I was introduced to opera as a small child by way of the Bugs Bunny and Roadrunner Show. Who among us can hear the overture to Rossini’s Barber of Seville without seeing Bugs Bunny in a barber’s smock massaging his way up the back of Elmer Fudd’s head with all four paws? Or hear the strains of Wagner without envisioning Elmer Fudd in a Viking helmet intoning, “Kill da wa-a-a-a-abbit, kill da wa-a-a-a-abbit”?
As an (alleged) adult, I’m pleased to report that my tastes have become marginally more refined, which is to say I only think about, watch or quote directly from Bugs Bunny a couple of times in a given day.
I now also spend many a blissful Saturday afternoon holed up in a darkened Cineplex theatre with my dear friend Ann, watching Actual Opera, in the form of live high-definition (HD) broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York. I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday, partly because there really is nothing to rival the Met, and partly because Ann is just such a delightful companion. She laughs at my jokes, makes a mean G&T and has honoured me with membership in her exalted circle of “Pool People,” a fabulous bunch who meet at her backyard pool during the summer (non-opera season) to admire her breathtaking garden, watch the birds, imbibe yet more G&Ts and solve the world’s problems. Everyone should have an Ann.
As far as non-summer entertainment goes, however, the Cineplex/Met experience is an extremely good bang for your buck. For $25.00 you essentially get to stand on the stage while the performance is in progress. I have attended very good operas here in Toronto, both at the former O’Keefe Centre and at the lovely new Four Seasons Centre, but if one forgets one’s opera glasses (as I usually do) the performers are simply tiny warbling specks in the distance. Not so with the Met HD: here, from the comfort of your spacious theatre seat, you can inspect the performers’ dental work, if that’s your thing, or examine the minute details of their costumes, which is mine.
Even better, during intermission you’re taken backstage for interviews with the stars and crew, conducted by actual off-duty opera singers who know their way around a stage, know what questions to ask and, well, simply look fabulous into the bargain.
Last week, for example, Ann and I saw an outstanding production of Carmen, starring the jaw-droppingly talented and gorgeous Elina Garanca, and then were whirled backstage during intermission by none other than the beautiful Renee Fleming, who could probably look like a million bucks during a shipwreck. And the week before that, the host was Placido Domingo. It doesn’t get much better than that.
It does, however, occasionally get worse. Memorably, just before Christmas last year Ann and I sat suppressing our giggles through a long-anticipated production of Aida that looked like it was cast by Weight Watchers. The three main characters sang beautifully but were so eye-poppingly overweight that one older gentleman, who had probably slipped a shot or two of Tia Maria into his Thermos, hollered out “Thar she blows!” before being thumped into submission by his wife.
Incredibly, the part of Amneris, the “beautiful daughter of the king,” was played by an angry-looking fire hydrant of a woman named Dolora Zajick, who resembled an overstuffed Dalek. During the entr’acte, host Renee Fleming asked, through a clearly pasted-on smile, what helped to keep the role fresh for Ms Zajick, who has apparently played Amneris since the time of the actual Egyptians. “It’s MY role,” growled the Fire Plug ungraciously before trundling off camera to devour a brace of underlings in her dressing room. “Exterminate! Exterminate!” Ms Fleming is to be heartily commended here for maintaining her composure under enormous (!) pressure. Lesser mortals (i.e., yours truly) would simply have fallen about laughing and pointing and making unseemly barnyard noises into the camera.
There have been other small glitches as well. Cineplex, following in the hallowed footsteps of Air Canada, has double-sold most of its seats, resulting in a mad flurry of ticket-checking and calling of ushers and hurried gathering of belongings before each production. Luckily they always have a second theatre at the ready for the displaced (which has twice included Ann and me) and so this is not as much of a problem as it might seem. Ann and I have, in fact, scored some truly excellent seats in this manner, so I shall say no more.
Also, there is the issue of Proper Opera Food. Cineplex/Met staff are very indulgent of their opera-going clientele – at $25 a head, they should be! – and although “outside food and drink” are officially forbidden, the theatre is wildly alive before each performance and during intermissions with the cheerful unwrapping of peanut butter sandwiches, the peeling of oranges and bananas, and the arrangement of Thermos cups full of home-brewed coffee. I love this. I usually attend a spin class in the morning before the opera, so my own home-made “smackerel” is always tucked discreetly into my bag along with a bottle of water.
However, on occasion, an interloper will appear with something that is Simply Not Cricket: during Carmen, for example, a young couple plonked themselves into the seats in front of us, opened two of the smelliest hamburgers in Christendom and proceeded to smack and grunt their way through the drippy mess just as the show was getting really good. The male left during the intermission (probably to go order a Party Platter of ribs or something) and never returned, and the female mourned his absence by pulling out an even gloppier falafel and tucking into that. Tsk… some people. Next time I shall bring a garrotte.
Alas, with the switch to Daylight Savings Time comes the bittersweet realization that another opera season will soon draw to a close. I am sorry to say that there are only a couple more performances left in the season before we must pack up our sandwich wrappers and coffee cups and vacate our theatre seats for the summer.
But as they say, when one door closes, another opens, and in my case, this means the much-anticipated advent of Poolside Season. I do love my opera during the winter months, but there is simply nothing better on a hot summer afternoon than to sink into a comfy deck chair and chat over drinks with dear Ann and our mutual friend Miss Sybil, who, in their elegant Melmira bathing costumes and designer sunglasses, resemble nothing so much as a page from one of the better Hollywood magazines.
I have been a (mostly) good Smiter all year in hopeful anticipation of the renewal of my coveted Official Poolside Invite, and as soon as the curtain descends on Hamlet and Armida, I shall dry my tears, put on my best Summer Scales, polish my teeth and wait with bated breath by my mailbox for my ticket to warm-weather heaven. It’s like Christmas in July.
After all, as my favourite opera star, Bugs Bunny, says, “if an interestin’ monster can’t have an interestin’ life, then my stars, I simply don’t know what this world is coming to!”