Love of opera transports me everywhere - even onstage
My love of opera has taken me from a seat at the Metropolitan Opera House in the Family Circle - the least expensive seats and acoustically the best, but a city block from the stage - to different parts of the world.
To London, where with college friends I attended a performance at Covent Garden of Berlioz's opera, "Les Troyens." The opera is based on the "Aeneid."
As a child, Berlioz wept at his father's reading of Virgil. Tears are an appropriate response. As Aeneas arrives at Carthage, he comes upon a mural depicting the suffering of the Trojans. Of his hosts he says, "They weep here/ For how the world goes, and our life that passes/ Touches their hearts."
Dido says to the band of Trojan refugees, "My own troubles teach me to help the unfortunate."
To St. Petersburg this year, celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding. Bicycling on the Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main avenue, I was reminded of noontime crowds on Fifth Avenue. I go to Falconet's famous statue of Peter the Great. In Pushkin's words, "Him by whose fateful will the city had/ Been founded on the sea...." The city is built on marshes, a horizontal city of low buildings, unlike New York, a vertical city built on bedrock.
In the evening, my Russian hosts took me to the beautiful five-tiered Mariinsky Theater with its blue-velvet chairs, gilded stucco, ceiling paintings, and chandeliers. Tchaikovsky's "Pique Dame" ("The Queen of Spades") was being performed. Based on a work by Pushkin, it is set in St. Petersburg. Scenes take place in the Summer Garden of Catherine the Great, in palaces overlooking the city's canals, on the banks of the Neva by the Winter Palace. St. Petersburg frames "Pique Dame," as Rome frames Puccini's "Tosca."
To the island of Naxos, where I sat by the sea, listening to a recording of Richard Strauss's "Ariadne auf Naxos." Music, sea, and sky. Ah, Strauss. Ah, Greece.
To England, on a bicycle trip in East Anglia. I arrived at the North Sea town of Aldeburgh, the site of Benjamin Britten's "Peter Grimes." Each morning, small fishing boats landed on the rocky beach with their catches of sole and plaice. As in the opera, fishermen repair their nets and gaze warily at the sea.
For £5 a day, I attended an opera workshop at the Maltings, the opera center founded by Britten and his musical collaborator and friend, English tenor Peter Pears. Pears conducts a master class on Verdi's "La Traviata." I join the singers for lunch and tea. My talents do not escape notice: I am asked to be an evil spirit in Carl Maria von Weber's "Der Freischütz" ("The Marksman"), but cannot; previous commitments preclude it.
Back in New York, to the Metropolitan Opera House, where I was to appear as a supernumerary in Puccini's "La Bohème." When the assistant stage manager learned I was over six feet tall, he reassigned me. Tall "supers" were needed as bishops in Verdi's "Don Carlo." Instead of appearing in a 19th-century Paris street scene, I was a bishop in 16th-century Madrid.
On opening night, I shared the stage with renowned singers. The Family Circle seemed far away.