We step off the subway welcomed by a blue and white mosaic with the neatly tiled words Lincoln Center 66th. This was my third trip with my mother to the Metroplitan Opera aka know affectionately at “The Met.” We were going to see Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci or Cav/Pag as it is known for short. The Met was the first one to pair these two operas together in 1893 setting a tradition. Cavalleria Rusticana meaning “Rustic Chivalry” by Pietro Mascagni premiered in 1888 and is based on a short story by Giovanni Verga. It spins the tale of adultery and murder in a Sicilian village. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci debuted in 1892. Leoncavallo claimed the tragic story of the jealous clown was based on an actual case, his father tried, but that is considered apocryphal. But both operas are considered verismo operas meaning
While I am certainly not an expert on Opera , it is very much part of the soundtrack of my life. The music and the stories were an indelible part of my childhood. My mother and Aunt Kathy were both opera lovers and dramatic storytellers. They would regale me with the tragic, poignant tales of Madame Butterfly committing suicide for love, Carmen’s legendary seductive beauty and yes Pagilacci the rage filled clown who murdered his wife. What child would not be interested in these dark journeys of the human soul? And then the singling weaving through all facets of mundane life. Housework and homework. Sitting at the kitchen table or on the back porch in the summer. My mother would sometimes be so struck by this beauty she looked Although I didn’t see an opera till much later in life I would listen. I remember one beautiful San Diego evening cooking pasta and playing La Traviata. Listening to such beautiful music imprinted turned such an otherwise average evening in
My mother tells of how her father would play Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) all day on Sundays as we stand on the lower level of the Met looking at the sculpture of the great Italian tenor. She also tells me she once asked her father why the clown looks so sad and he said because he lost someone he loved, failing to mention he murdered her. So too opera was part of her soundtrack. I unfortunately never knew my grandfather, but I like to picture him in a chair swept away on Sunday afternoons by beautiful music. The same way I watched my mother in her our kitchen in South Scranton swept away by certain arias.mAnd I like this connection of generations connected by arias and duets.
The Met is also just a magnificent space. Designed by the architect Wallace K. Harrison, it moved to its Lincoln Center home in 1966. It’s a space I find sophisticated yet warm and inviting. Immediately upon entering one is enveloped by the red lushness of the space. The 40 chandeliers are quite mesmerizing. They were a gift from the Austrian Government and contain 49,000 crystals (most Savorski) Designed by Hans Harold Roth of J & L Lobbyer, the legend says he was inspired by book given to him by the architect on the Big Bang Theory after his first design was rejected.
The book apparently inspired the elegant, atomic chandeliers. Perhaps it is there effervescent, bubbly star-like character that inspires me to have a glass of sparkling wine at one of the cocktail tables before the performance or during intermission.
The the lights dim and it begins. Cavelleria Rusticana with its emphasis on ritual, peasant life and religion felt very reminiscent of the work of the Spanish playwright Lorca. For this reason, although I like spare sets and minimalism in generalin this production so much of the themes, especially regarding religous pagaentry, cycles of natural world, were lost in the one note spareness, literal darkness of the stage and some weaker acting. The voices were beautiful and haunting though.
The production of Pagliacci in contrast was lively and funny and tragic all at the same time. The decision to highlight comedy and set in 1940’s with a Vaudevill troupe gave it a wonderful depth. The humor gave the tragic end more poignancy.
Do you have a favorite memory of the Met? Please feel free to share in the comments!