Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tacos with your Tosca?

One of the happiest developments around these parts recently, aside from the nearly six inches of rain that we received over the past week, has been the appearance of the Metropolitan Opera of New York's high-definition simulcasts at a theater in Querétaro, a booming city about forty-five minutes from the ranch.

No, you don't experience the frisson of seeing the real thing in New York City, but for approximately ten dollars a ticket plus whatever you munch on during the performance, Met HD has to be the best entertainment value here or anywhere.

Neither Stew nor I can be considered opera queens, one of those urban sophisticates who simply must buy season tickets to Chicago's Lyric Opera or the Met in New York, even if all they can afford is a far-left perch on the fourth balcony, a foot below a chandelier.

Low-budget divas: Most of the people in the audience in
Querétaro are Americans from San Miguel. 
For those discerning souls, fevered discussions during intermission about the night's opera, over a flute of champagne if at all possible, are almost as much fun as the show itself.

Stew and I have seen a few operas, most of them well-known, the so-called workhorses of the repertoire: Think "Carmen," "The Barber of Seville," Gounod's "Faust," "Madama Butterfly," "La Bohème," "Tosca" and others in that category. I even went to see a production of "Lulu"  by Alban Berg, a notoriously "difficult" confection sung in German that somehow kept me enthralled, all the more so because I had finagled a free, molto primo orchestra seat at the Lyric in Chicago.

But you won't find Stew and I fluttering about in the lobby during intermission discussing musical minutiae or previous productions we might have seen. That's largely because, a) we know hardly anything about music, and b) we scarcely can remember plot lines from one opera to the next, except such gross details as Mimi's breathing difficulties in "La Bohème" and how Lt. Pinkerton treated poor Cio-Cio San like total shit in "Madama"—and how we wished his ship would sink on the way back to America.

Indeed, limited operatic knowledge is what makes the Met HD simulcasts in Querétaro tailor-made for neophyte divas like Stew and me.

Tickets are inexpensive enough, so when we don't like the opera we can just mutter enigmatically "that was certainly interesting" to our friends on the way home. No big loss, and far better than having sat in an uncomfortable $150 seat watching something we didn't understand much less enjoy. "Whose idea was this?" one of us might ask the other on the way out.

And in Querétaro's brand-new, 60-seat cinema, you get Singapore Airlines-style leather seats with electric recliners, small side tables with lamps and extra-wide aisles so that during the first fifteen minutes of the opera Ninja-like waiters can hop around bringing you any munchies or drinks listed on a fifteen-page menu. Anything from slider burgers and beer, sushi or croquettes. Just don't be shocked on the way out that the theater looks like Wrigley Field after a double header.

Something not to your liking? Press the button on your seat's armrest and a young Mexican guy dressed in black will come running to try fix it.

Alas, there are a few hitches. Subtitles are in Spanish, and there have been a few problems with the feed from New York though they were fixed promptly. A couple of productions ago, the audio lagged behind the video but the problem was solved after a brief pause. Last week the satellite transmission was breaking up because of a fierce rainstorm, but that was fixed too after a three- or four-minute pause. Just press that button on the armrest.

Interestingly, video and audio quality were actually better at two Met productions we saw at Mexico City's enormous National Auditorium a couple of years ago.  Interesting because this is a four- or five-thousand-seat modern theater designed for pop music and other mass productions that yet has excellent sound reproduction, acoustics and sight lines, and a screen as big as a fútbol field.

Better news still, at least for executive directors of opera houses worried about falling attendance, the two Met HD productions we saw in Mexico City were completely sold out to a demographic that tilted heavily toward young people and even families with kids.

Now for perhaps the biggest surprise: Stew and I have enjoyed most of the operas we've attended, most of them unknown to us. There were a few clinkers, like Béla Bartók's "Bluebeard's Castle," whose endless screeching and bizarre plot propelled us to a quick exit at the end. That was certainly interesting.

One thing we've learned along the way is not to worry too much about the plot and to keep an open mind, as a pianist friend of ours recommended.

Most opera plots are too ridiculous to worry about the details. Who loves whom, who killed whom, who jumped off from which balcony, who cares? Just allow yourself to entertained, sometimes dazzled, by the beautiful singing and productions.

There. I'm starting to sound like a seasoned opera queen, and only for ten dollars a ticket.  Can't wait until the next season.

1 comment:

  1. I have attended several operas where I wish I had a button that connected directly with the floor of the conductor's podium. Much better than a pause button.

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