A refreshing day filled with art and basketball

Variety makes life interesting. On a recent Saturday, I play basketball for two hours and spend six hours at the Metropolitan Opera at a performance of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg."

Wagner wanted audiences to prepare themselves on the day of performance by studying the libretto. "Meistersinger" being one of my favorite operas, I feel no need to prepare.

What would Wagner's view on playing basketball before a performance be? We shall never know, since the game, invented by James Naismith in 1891, came after Wagner.

While at the gym, I give playing tips to a young player. Here, you might say, I take on the role of Hans Sachs, shoemaker and Meistersinger of Nürnberg, who coaches Walther von Stolzing to compete in the song contest.

A 6 p.m. curtain raises a critical question: When do you eat? Early.

At 4:30, I partake of grilled chicken with cranberry sauce at home. Then I take my bicycle down to the street for the ride across the park to the opera.

So many sights along the way. Steam issuing forth from a manhole cover. (Nibelung beneath the street preparing supper?) Hot-dog vendors loading their carts onto trucks. A statue of Daniel Webster. Strings of lights on trees at Tavern on the Green. I cross the finish line crossed by tens of thousands of marathon runners weeks ago. Posters in glass cases outside the Metropolitan Opera announce future performances of "Arabella," "La Traviata," and "Madama Butterfly."

I am in the Family Circle, the cheapest seats in the house, but the best for listening. Binoculars are a must.

The crystal chandeliers dim and slowly rise to the ceiling. Silence in the darkened opera house. Then applause for conductor James Levine and the Met Orchestra, followed by the glorious prelude to "Meistersinger."

During the Act I intermission, I munch on dried peaches and chocolate I carry in my jacket pocket. Sustenance is necessary for great understandings.

From the opera house's outdoor balcony, I see crowds arriving at Lincoln Center for 8 p.m. performances of the New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic. Folks, we've been hard at work now for two hours.

Behind me sits a 7-year-old girl in a velvet dress. She has been very good about not complaining. Wagner is not the best introduction to opera for children. But her restlessness takes the form of kicking the back of my seat.

I'd be ashamed of myself to complain to her, or to her nice parents, so I move two rows back. I am now in the last row of the opera house.

The opera proceeds. The good burghers of Nürnberg fill the state: goldsmith, shoemaker, furrier, baker, tailor, grocer, stocking weaver, instead of the gods, giant, and dwarfs found in some Wagner operas.

The evening is long. As Cosima Wagner wrote of her husband in her diary, "R. does not care for brevity." A model of understatement.

Act III is the opera's high point. The exchanges among the principals culminate in a wonderful quintet leading to the final scene, set in a meadow outside Nürnberg's walls. There the townsfolk gather for the song contest.

I enjoy every minute. Just before midnight, the performance ends. A standing ovation. I feel I have ascended a mountain: weary, but proud of the effort and refreshed in spirit.

I leave the opera house and walk to my bicycle. I enter the park. Except for two horse-drawn carriages on the road, the park is empty.

I am hungry as a wolfhound. Exiting the park at 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue, I head off for a 24-hour diner on Lexington Avenue. Here I order a hamburger and vanilla milkshake.

I am in bed by 1 a.m. after a full day of high art and basketball.

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