By Caitlin Kelly
From the moment you enter the building, elegance!
Imagine living in New York for decades but never once attending the Met Opera, considered one of the world’s greatest. I’d been to Lincoln Center many times for ballet and theater, but never once for an opera.
Until two friends raved about a production of Parsifal, a performance lasting (!) 5.5 hours (including two intermissions), Wagner’s final opera.
Five and half hours?
I was nervous as hell, but spent $132.50 for my seat (F119) in the first balcony. My view was stupendously good, but I was very glad to have brought my binoculars as well.
Even the lighting and handrails look like jewelry
I love these chandeliers — the ones inside the hall dim and rise to the ceiling as the hall darkens…
The evening proved to be one of the best of my life, in every way.
Even the usher taking tickets, as the crowds were pushing and shoving, said “Welcome!” when I told him this was my first visit to the Met.
As is typical, many in the audience had dressed up, like the seatmate to my left, a woman slightly older who told me that the surtitles (which are discreetly displayed on the back of the seat in front of you) were being very tightly edited — she speaks German and the opera is in German. (They offer surtitles in several languages.)
The opera itself is complex to explain; best to read this instead!
It’s in three acts, and the staging, costumes and lighting were all truly extraordinary, with an entire back wall of the stage used as a screen of moving images of clouds, of a moon, of various other shapes and colors, each matched to the mood of the act and the music. It was visually astonishing.
The first and third acts used a stage that was massively raked — i.e. slanted upward away from the audience, creating an illusion of distance, so that some singers entered and exited by walking down at the rear, disappearing as shadows and silhouettes.
The second act is, literally, steeped in (fake, stage) blood, ankle deep. It is astounding — and here’ s a New York Times story explaining how it worked. There were 1,250 gallons of it for every show, kept warm for the barefoot artists.
Keeping things neat and safe with over 1,000 gallons of fake blood sloshing around is not easy. An overflow trough sits behind the pool. Rows of chairs with towels and sandals are placed for the performers coming off the bloody stage, and absorbent mats and brown paper are taped along the path to their dressing rooms. Members of the stage crew are posted beneath the stage to make sure no blood seeps into the Met’s underground storage areas, where sets for operas like “L’Elisir d’Amore” and “Pagliacci” are currently stored.
This work offered so much wealth — gorgeous music, amazing singing, and many stunning visuals of tremendous subtlety (thank heaven I took my binoculars!), like a very early moment when the men’s chorus, attired in gray suits, slowly and gently remove their suits, ties, black shoes and even their watches — to emerge in a sea of white cotton dress shirts.
(The piece also includes two long intermissions, useful for eating a quick dinner and using the bathroom.)
If you think “Ohhh, I hate opera!” this one was a perfect entry point, even at its length.I was never once bored or distracted.
It’s not all cliches of enormous women in breastplates or endless arias, but a somber and meditative work that even Wagner himself didn’t call an opera.
He wrote Parsifal in 1882, in his mid-60s, and it has the feel of a look back.
The next day I tweeted my gratitude to fellow Canadian, the Met’s new conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who liked and re-tweeted it.
As I was leaving the hall quite late, I shared the escalator to the parking garage beneath Lincoln Center with a man who sang a line to me in German — one of the smaller parts he’d just played! His knee was sore, he said, from a month of climbing that steeply raked set. He even offered to walk to me to my car, a gesture of such unexpected kindness from someone who had just left the Met stage.
At its best, that’s such a New York moment.
The underground garage…
What an evening!