An afternoon at the opera

“Dilettante” is a word that may have been coined to describe Stew’s and my knowledge of opera, which is about a yard wide and a sixteenth-of-an-inch deep. Yes, we’re familiar with the one about the bullfighter and the cigar maker; and the other one about Egyptians and Ethiopians. But that’s pretty much it.

But thanks to the Metropolitan Opera of New York’s high-definition simulcasts of some of its performances, we might be progressing from “dilettante” to “conversant,” albeit far from the title of full-fledged “opera queens.”

Although the simulcasts supposedly are showing at the Angela Peralta Theater in downtown San Miguel, we prefer to view them at a 54-seat VIP Cineplex cinema in Querétaro, about 45-minutes from here.

The theaters have plush, reclining leather seats, much like first-class in airlines, and young people will come and take your drink and food or orders, at the push of convenient button on your armrest. Practically anything from sushi to enchiladas is available, and several kinds of popcorn. This past Saturday we settled on a more modest order of coffee and churros. A great deal for about seven dollars a person, munchies not included.

Apart from the theater, the technology involved is pretty amazing. The show coincides exactly with the live afternoon performance at the Met, adjusted for time zones, and is broadcast by satellite to over 70 countries, with local subtitles.

Here, we get Spanish, but Stew says he can understand enough to figure out who’s the heroine and the dirtbag.

(For the 2018-19 schedule in theaters from one end of Russia to the other, consult this link.)

Each show is preceded by an introduction by a genuine opera star (on Saturday it was Renee Fleming) and intermission interviews with the stars of the show. Also, cameras follow the assembly and dismantlement of the scenery by two- or three-dozen stagehands with ballet-like precision, an amazing show in itself. 

The quality of the video and audio is astonishing, particularly considering the signal has to travel from New York, up to a satellite about 20,000 miles in space, and back down to our lowly neck of the woods.

Poulenc’s “Dialogue of the Carmelites”

Even with a knowledge of the operatic repertoire as limited as ours, and if can’t tell a high C from a low M, some of the performances are awesome. Check out the performance by the diminutive Mexican tenor Javier Camarena in an aria from the Daughter of the Regiment, an opera we had never seen. The plot is pretty lame, but Camarena’s singing had the audience practically jumping off the balconies, clamoring for an encore. Check it out.

The last in this year’s ten-opera package was Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, not exactly a comedic romp: It’s about 16 nuns who were guillotined during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Without spoiling the end, each of them dies, one by one, with a ghoulish screech from somewhere in the orchestra to mark each whack of the blade.

Move over, Turandot. 

Poulenc’s music is not something you whistle on the way home from the theater, but somehow it was incredibly fitting for a very moving—feminist?— work about religious conviction and personal courage, by a group of women.

The stark main set was a white cross painted on the floor of the Met’s enormous stage and metal prison grates that came and went according to the plot.

Nothing like Puccini’s Turandot, which at one point has so many people on stage, wearing such wild costumes, including Turandot’s foot-high headgear, you half expect Bette Midler to sneak in and hit a few bars from “Hello Dolly,” just to complete the show. 

We’re are going back next year.

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