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My First Opera Experience

For both my way of getting more in touch with you, the reader, and as my entry for The Operarox Livestream tomorrow, I want to tell you all about my first opera experience.

*Disclaimer!*

I have a really good memory and this will act as a personal “diary” entry to remember this event. There may be some really specific details in here.(Nothing offensive, but a “What I ordered for dinner” type of thing.)

So, for Christmas of 2008, I opened a gift on Christmas eve. The gift was a small white box tied with a ribbon. Inside the box, was an index card written in alternating colors of crayon. On the card, it said “You are entitled to do one event in New York city with Mom or Dad” and that was bout it. Pretty open ended. At that time in my life, I really wasn’t totally into Broadway and I had seen most New York museums, and I thought there wasn’t anything else to do. I asked my mom what I should pick. She responded “We could go to the opera…”.

I had never been one of those kids plagued by stereotypes of classical music and I hadn’t been taught to hate it. So I replied “Yes”. This conversation happened a month or two after Christmas.

For the next few months, I harassed my mom to buy the tickets but she was kind of at a loss of what to see. We consulted my grandfather, who suggested Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci which was playing in the 2008-2009 season. My grandfather described Cavalleria to me as: “So there’s this lady and she’s kind of sexy and her husband is the coach driver of the village. The wife then falls in love with another man and leaves him so he gets angry and kills the poor guy.” Notice no mention of Santuzzza. So him and my mother debated over whether it was appropriate to take me to see it. After seven more seconds of deliberation, they decided yes, bought tickets for my mother, grandfather and I and we then waited for the performance. We bought dress circle tickets in row G for that April 10, 2009 performance. It was the last performance of the double bill that season. I was also Good Friday. When my mom asked if it was alright to see it on Good Friday, my grandfather replied “Well there’s a church.”

My ticket for that night!

So, when the day of the performance came, I got super clean, and climbed in the car with my mom. I had read the synopsis quite a few times and was ready to see everything happen. For some reason, I was nervous to see it. Like scary movie nervous. I still wonder why…

I remember driving down and asking my mom “Do they have popcorn and snacks there?”. She replied with “No, You want a mid-aria snack?”

We had made reservations at Arte Cafe, at the suggestion of my grandmother’s cousin who lived in that area of New York for a long time. We met my grandfather there, along with my aunt, uncle, their two fantastic boys and my aunt’s best friend. My grandfather had been at the hospital all day, as he was a doctor. I ordered gnocchi with butter and Parmesan and I had a Shirley Temple to drink. After dinner, we went to Magnolia Bakery to get cupcakes, even though I’m allergic to them. I didn’t eat any but everyone else did.

So after dinner, we split from the group and made our way down to Lincoln Center, which I thought was one huge theater at the time. We entered through the side and gave them our tickets. We got to our seats up in the family circle and settled in.A cast list is included below courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera Archives.

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA {672}
Mascagni-Targioni-Tozzetti/Menasci

Santuzza…………….Ildikó Komlósi
Turiddu……………..José Cura
Lola………………..Ginger Costa-Jackson
Alfio……………….Alberto Mastromarino
Mamma Lucia………….Jane Bunnell
Peasant……………..Linda Mays

Conductor……………Pietro Rizzo

Production…………..Franco Zeffirelli
Stage Director……….David Kneuss
Designer…………….Franco Zeffirelli

Cura and Komlosi in Cavalleria Rusticana

The minute they started to pull up those spectacular chandeliers I was hooked on that place. The lights dinned and the curtain opened. Jose Cura started to sing as Turridu to which my grandfather audibly said “Not very good.” then fell into sleep. I didn’t know what was good and what was not at that time. I just remember enjoying it.

Then, Ildiko Komlosi ran onstage. Her dramatic intensity made her the star of the entire evening. I also remember Ginger Costa-Jackson as a wonderful Lola and the rest of the leads were all great, but at that time I had no idea what great was. I so clearly remember poor Santuzza being hurled on the ground time after time. I also remember her fainting at the fall of the curtain, which Tatiana Troyanos who sang Santuzza did not do when this production was on in 1978. Th thing I remember most, however is the spectacular Easter Chorus with the entire procession to the church. That was my Good Friday. Also, in the first scene when all the peasants meander about the piazza, one boy who carried two baskets of oranges on a pole, lost one of his oranges. He tried to keep composure as he frantically tried to keep his orange from falling down the massive steps. I remember turning to my mother in the middle and whispering, “So far, this woman has had a terrible Easter.” I hadn’t learned Italian yet, but I remembered some words and picked out all the “Andiamos”. I think the best thing that happened to me opera wise is that I went in thinking that there were no translations. I had no idea what “Met Titles” were, so I went in expecting to just listen and watch. This has really prepared me for the rest of the opera world. Here is a clip of Komlosi in the Easter Chorus. Unfortunately, she has never been as important a singer in the U.S. as she is in Europe, so her New York engagements seem sparse.

Also below, is a picture of the bows from that cast. I don’t know which night it was or who took it, but I found it on Ginger Costa-Jackson’s website.

Curtain Call for Cavalleria Rusticana. Date unknown.

During the intermission, we stayed in our seats until the next performance, Pagliacci. Below is another cast list:


PAGLIACCI {712}
Leoncavallo-Leoncavallo

Nedda……………….Nuccia Focile
Canio……………….José Cura
Tonio……………….Alberto Mastromarino
Silvio………………Christopher Maltman
Beppe……………….Tony Stevenson
Villager…………….Timothy Breese Miller
Villager…………….Jeffrey Mosher

Conductor……………Pietro Rizzo

Production…………..Franco Zeffirelli
Stage Director……….David Kneuss
Designer…………….Franco Zeffirelli

Pagliacci, also with Cura, was wonderful as well. I was so shocked that they had even changed the floor. When the opera starts, Tonio is supposed to step out in fromt of the curtain. I remember arguing with my mother over whether he would do it or not. He did. The cast was also with Nuccia Focile and Christopher Maltman. I clearly remember the scene with Focile and Mastromarino when Nedda threatened to whip Tonio for his advances and then Silvio and Nedda’s duet. After that, I remembered the table in their comedy that kept rising up and down, and Canio stabbing the Nedda and Silvio. Also fresh in my memories are Silvio’s position during Arlechino’s seranade. I actually hae no recollection of ‘Vesti la Giubba’. When Silvio ran to help Nedda-eventually getting himself killed- he ran up to Canio. When Canio stabbed him, Maltman fell back onto a bench, tiping it over and appearing to slam his head pretty badly on the ground. To this day, I still have no idea whether it was intentional or not. I’ll have to ask him sometime… Not that I know him…

Here is the final scene with Pavarotti. I think these are the most chilling final words in all of opera.

Afterwards, we had to run to get our car out of parking after the applause. On the way home, I ate a chocolate covered marshmallow Easter egg my mom brought for me because I wouldn’t be able to eat any sweets there. This is one of the best memories I will ever have. I’m happy to share it all with you.

What were your first experiences with opera? Tell me in the comments and thanks for reading!

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6 comments on “My First Opera Experience

  1. Reblogged this on Melkonian News and commented:
    We thought this was a charming story. For those who wish to re-live their first opera experience…

  2. What a beautiful, vividly detailed description! It sounds like your introduction to opera was an excellent one. Here’s my account of my first opera experience: http://www.paminasopera.com/my-first-visit-to-the-opera/.

  3. Great description of your first time at the Opera. Reminded me of me (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) and I was taken to the Old Met. I also was a teen and was thunderstruck when I walked into all that burnished gold and crimson and began a lifelong fascination with Opera. I was going to run the Met one day too, but I never got there. Maybe you will. I did get to work with Rudolf Bing when we were both at CAMI and I tried to learn as much as I could from him. It was also fun hob-knobbing with all the great stars of the day, who were all CAMI clients: Tebaldi, Nilsson, Corelli, etc. etc. etc. Keep up the good work.

  4. This is so wonderful!!! My first XP was I guess when I was 7 years old. My city hosted Irina Arhipova’s opera festival and luckily me and my Mom got free entrance tickets for all the performances. So right now it’s hard to remember the first opera but I suppose it was Tosca!

  5. […] first time in 1893. Last seen at the Met in 2009 in a 40+ year-old, hyper-realistic and beautiful staging by Franco Zeffirelli, the pair returned to the Met on Tuesday night in a pair of solid new […]

  6. […] first time in 1893. Last seen at the Met in 2009 in a 40+ year-old, hyper-realistic and beautiful staging by Franco Zeffirelli, the pair returned to the Met on Tuesday night in a pair of solid new […]

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