An Opera at The Met

When I watched Moonstruck in my uni­ver­si­ty “Music in the Movies” class, we stud­ied a scene where Ronny Cammareri (Nicholas Cage’s char­ac­ter) has a date with Loretta Castorini (played by Cher) at the Metropolitan Opera. She takes off her coat, and he says, “Thank you…You know it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Opera”.

In his face, you see that he’s not talk­ing just about the opera. After los­ing his hand and fiancée, he’s at the Met, arguably the most pres­ti­gious opera house in the world, with a beau­ti­ful woman in a black dress, and he’s missed this.

Even in the screen­play, there are set direc­tions for the scene when they arrive:

CROWDS OF PEOPLE in beau­ti­ful clothes fill the plaza cre­at­ed by the three great build­ings. A glo­ri­ous foun­tain filled with lights forms the cen­ter­piece. Behind the foun­tain, grand and splen­did­ly lit, is the mag­i­cal Metropolitan Opera House.

Ever since, The Met has been this place I’ve dreamed of attend­ing. Unfortunately, it’s in New York, and decent seats can cost over $100.

Orfeo ed Euridice

So when my local movie the­atre start­ed offer­ing live HD broad­casts of per­for­mances there, I decid­ed I should go. To ful­fill a dream in spir­it, if not in the flesh.

The Story

The opera of Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, the father of songs, who ven­tures to the under­world to bring his wife, Eurydice, back from the dead. He does this by play­ing his lyre to soft­en the hearts of the care­tak­ers of Hades.

There are two con­di­tions, how­ev­er. On their jour­ney back to the liv­ing, he’s not allowed to look at Euridice, nor tell her why. Though she’s beset by doubt and mis­un­der­stand­ing, they make it to the edge of the under­world, only to have Orpheus look back before Euridice is safe­ly through as well, and he los­es her for­ev­er.

It was cer­tain­ly the sto­ry that drew me more any­thing else. Orpheus not only mak­ing the Gods weep, but seduc­ing the shades with his dul­cet music as well. Defying life and death itself with the pow­er of art. There’s so much emo­tion in it. Orpheus reunit­ing with his wife after death, try­ing to dis­pel her inse­cu­ri­ty, and los­ing her again.

There’s a vari­a­tion in the opera; he sings so mourn­ful­ly again, than the Gods take pity on him and bring her back to life. I’m not sure if I enjoyed this change of sto­ry. It smacks of audi­ence paci­fi­ca­tion, going against the authen­tic­i­ty of the orig­i­nal Greek play.

The Presentation

Before the opera start­ed, there was oper­at­ic triv­ia on the screen (much like the Hollywood triv­ia before a movie), along with live footage of the audi­ence tak­ing their seats and the orches­tra get­ting warmed up. One advan­tage of such a venue is that there was a brief intro­duc­tion and inter­views with Met music director/conductor James Levine and chore­o­g­ra­ph­er, Mark Morris. The inter­views were great for pro­vid­ing a bit more insight into the per­for­mance before it start­ed.

The cam­eras offered a view that even peo­ple in the front row don’t get. There’s an inti­ma­cy with the singers that can be achieved when you can see their emo­tion, breath­ing, and sweat­ing. Enough that it remind­ed me of being on stage from my child­hood years of musi­cal per­for­mance. You feel the ner­vous chat­ter of the musi­cians before they began, tin­ker­ing with their instru­ments, warm­ing up their fin­gers, and it all adds to the expe­ri­ence.

I was­n’t used to a woman play­ing the male lead, which they call a “trouser role”. I think a cer­tain amount of chem­istry is need­ed, and it’s dis­tract­ing with the one gen­der play­ing two because it seems a lit­tle forced. There’s also a cer­tain male tim­bre that’s extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to repro­duce as a woman, and dis­tracts from the will­ing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief.

The Art

The opera was a through piece, which meant the per­for­mance went for an hour and a half with no inter­rup­tions. That made it very digestible; some­thing I strong­ly appre­ci­ate, as I can only take so much opera in one sit­ting.

The music was quite enjoy­able, though my favourite part was when Orpheus goes to the under­world for the first time, and sings for the dead. On the oth­er hand, the dance seemed a lit­tle lack­lus­tre, though I’ve nev­er been one to appre­ci­ate such a medi­um.

Chorus closeup of Orfeo ed Euridice

I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed the mod­ern take on it, with the lute instead of lyre. Costumes too were mod­ern. The cho­rus of the dead were meant to rep­re­sent every­one in his­to­ry, among the faces were mod­ern peo­ple, like Abraham Licncoln, John Lennon, and Babe Ruth.

One thing the direc­tor explained was the extend­ed danc­ing scenes. Composers want­ed opera to be a com­bi­na­tion of all art forms, some­thing I pre­vi­ous­ly believed was held by cin­e­ma. There’s cer­tain­ly some­thing to be said about the medi­um of opera in this regard, or per­haps about the lim­i­ta­tions of artis­tic medi­ums in gen­er­al. Perhaps they should­n’t be com­pared, and sim­ply appre­ci­at­ed for what they can achieve.


  1. On the first opera per­for­mance I ever worked on, mak­ing crafts items such as jew­el­ry, armour, etc. for the prin­ci­pals, I was so into mak­ing my objects and focus­ing on han­dling my job that I did­n’t real­ly think about the singers who were going to wear them, even though I’d stud­ied clas­si­cal singing a bit. Working there was mag­ic.

    Seeing them wear­ing my stuff onstage actu­al­ly over­shad­owed my hear­ing them sing, until I attend­ed a final dress rehearsal with few peo­ple in the hall, sit­ting as close as I could get.…. It was REALLY MAGIC.

    But then sec­ond­ly, I saw Othello and it was so long I was exhaust­ed. Opera is def­i­nite­ly for the patient, even though grand.

    • That cer­tain­ly must have been some­thing to see your work incor­po­rat­ed in such a pro­duc­tion. Costumes and fash­ion are an art in itself, and theatre/opera/film uses them well.

      • I know.… I real­ly miss it!

  2. hey jeff i for­got your not on fb so u missed the inv to the super bowl par­ty its this sun man so sory about the short notice man

    ps sor­ry to post ran­dom­ness on ur blog man

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