The Old Met was the Metropolitan Opera’s home in the Big Apple from 1883 to 1966. An elderly gentleman I once knew worked there as a young man. His name was Bob. He wasn’t a singer or musician. I thought perhaps he worked with sets or props or lighting or costumes. But no. He was one of the animal handlers for the productions, including both off and on stage. If on stage, that meant in costume. He dealt with horses, camels, elephants – whatever animal was charted to be in the production.
This made me think about the vastness of staging an opera. And what a job it would have been without the high tech innovations of modern stage production. During The Old Met’s time, it was not an uncommon sight to see set changes leaning against the walls outside. I assume any large animals in the production also waited outside. Being an animal handler back then would have been a cold, hot, or wet proposition.
The last time I was in New York City, I went to Lincoln Center, the home of the Metropolitan Opera since 1966. It was pouring rain when a friend and I left our hotel and flagged a Black Car. That evening we saw Carmen by Georges Bizet. I appreciated the Met Titles on a little individual screen on the back of the seat in front of me.
I wondered what my friend Bob would have thought about the staging and animal handling in this modern production of Carmen. Just how were the horses gotten on and off stage? They weren’t waiting outside. I learned this opera house has what’s called The Horse Door which connects the parking garage to the stage. It’s the door through which any animals that are part of a production come and go.
The last opera I saw was not “live” or in a traditional opera house. No one had to worry about bringing animals on stage. The opera was at my local Cinemark Theater. The production was Aida by Giuseppe Verdi. Presentations such as these are available through The Met’s HD Live Program which makes opera more accessible for people. Reasonable prices. Familiar surroundings. I found myself on a Saturday morning in a comfortable theater seat digging into a huge box of popcorn while the story unfolded on screen.
It’s not quite the same as the excitement of seeing an opera on stage. But, unless you have prime seats at the Met and perhaps deep pockets, you can see the opera better, it’s captioned, and there are interviews with the principals as well as backstage tours.
If you already enjoy the drama and passion, the voices and music, the stories and pageantry of opera, enough said. If not, try on a morning of opera through the Met’s HD Live Program. Or attend a performance of an opera at your town’s Performing Arts Center or those staged at the local college or university. See what you think.
P.S. And writers, I wish I’d talked to Bob more about his experiences at The Old Met. He probably had some wonderful stories to tell. A missed opportunity. And it’s interesting to explore something quirky such as The Horse Door. By extension, it’s fun to build something quirky into a character.
My first official opera visit was with my mother-in-law who loved opera. It must have been in the 70’s. At that time there was local attempt to bring opera to area. Mom had read about a performance being presented in the Lake George. I picked her up and drove to the location which we soon discovered was a lovely well kept wooden barn that had been converted into a small “opera House.” A piano provided the music for the singers. Truthfully I’ve forgotten many details but never forgot that this was my first live opera experience. I became a lover of opera and eventually chamber music. Thank you for writing about your experiences, Carol, old and present.
Your experience is great as well as memorable. And Wow! to the pianist who played an entire opera. In western New York State, I loved going to see plays in “old barn” theaters. Would have loved to see an opera as you describe it.
Just a month ago I also ‘stopped by the opera’ but not by the Royal Opera House in Stockholm, but by a wharf located on an island called Ljusterö close to Åkersberga where I live.
A man, which I would call a genious, had the idea of bringing opera to an empty wharf. (You can google Ramsmora varv if you like.) You see, all the sailing boats, that they store during the winter months, were out during the summer sailing in the archipelago. What to do with the empty space? Why not bring in opera? Jussi Björling used to have his summer cottage not far from there. No wonder the people of Ljusterö love opera and want to bring it to their island.
At the end of the performance, I plus eightundredandfifty other persons gave the musicians, brought out by bus from the Royal Opera House in Stockholm, standing ovations. The thirty some musician and singers performed the Magic Flute by Mozart with utmost expertise. It was a tremendous musical experience of world class. I sincerely hope they will arrange Opera på Varvet again next summer.
I would have loved to have been there. Opera on an empty wharf is an amazing idea and a beautiful setting. Not familiar with Jussi Bjorling, I learned he was a famous Swedish tenor who appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC many times. I can understand the operatic passion he inspires. What a great experience.