My friend Janey and I went to the Metropolitan Opera in Asheville on November ninth. We were part of a full house of mostly gray-haired opera fans who came to see the simulcast of Puccini’s “Tosca,” which has one of the most dastardly plots, opera’s worst villain Scarpia, and some of Puccini’s loveliest music. Members of the board of the Asheville Lyric Opera served as ushers and cheerleaders.
I was frankly not certain I would have the stamina to make the trip, miss my lunch and nap in order to get there early enough for good seats, watch a movie for three-and-a-half hours, go out for supper, and then make the trip home. But I was determined to try. So I emptied my roomy knitting bag and filled it with my water bottle, high protein and high fiber snacks, my travel pillow, and a few other things for my comfort.
These simulcasts have been going on for five years and although I am devoted to opera, listen faithfully to the Saturday Met broadcasts, and have been to major opera houses in various parts of the world, this was my first time at the Metropolitan Opera Cinema. I had been aware of the dates and operas being offered earlier, but somehow I could never make it work.
Janey had once suggested that we go together sometime to one of these simulcasts in Asheville. So when I realized that Tosca was on the schedule, I asked her if she would like to go and if she was willing to drive. And now the day had come. I had in mind the many telecasts I have watched on PBS Great Performances, some from the Met and some from the Philadelphia and San Francisco Opera Companies. I expected that would be the format and wondered if I would be able to see the performers very well in a film made on the gigantic stage in New York.
The curtain rose on the opening scene that revealed the size and power of the semi-abstract set and introduced one of the main plot lines. Then the tenor strode onto the stage and in just a few minutes—with the magic of new technologies—the camera zoomed in for a close-up. Thus began the flawless performance of Roberto Alagnas as Tosca’s lover Cavaradossi. He and soprano Patricia Racette in the title role embodied the glorious love duets with intimacy, humor, sorrow, jealousy and ecstasy playing across their faces and as they punctuated the lyrics with hand gestures. Being able to see the nuance and emotion in such detail made me briefly feel like an intruder.
The biggest surprise for me was the scene with the villainous Scarpia in his private den of pleasure. He is a character who has always seemed to be the incarnation of evil. But here we had George Gagnidze showing us a deep sadness in his consummate portrayal. It almost made me want to add Scarpia to my metta blessing list the next time I meditated. He did not, however, make the chief of police likeable and there were no redeeming virtues as he sang the remarkable music Puccini had written for this nefarious character.
I used my travel pillow as we waited for the opera to start as well as during each intermission when there was nothing on the screen but stagehands changing scenery—eighty-five of them we were told. I didn’t sleep but I did feel refreshed. I also took two corridor walks to keep my problematic knee from getting too stiff. I was well fed and hydrated and I noticed many of the other patrons had a similar bag of sustenance. Others bought snacks at the theater’s food bar, which had much more than popcorn and cokes. You can even get a salad!
At the end, theater patrons clapped along with the audience in New York where the three principles all received a standing ovation and shouts of “Bravo.” Janey and I floated out of the Carolina Cinemas and drove to the restaurant. After we ordered an early supper, Janey heaved a happy sigh and said, “I feel full.” Misunderstanding, I asked if she would rather not have stopped to eat. “I don’t feel full in my stomach,” she said, “ I feel full in my whole being from the opera.”
A few days before we went to “Tosca” I heard an interview with a man who has written a new biography of Bob Fosse, the choreographer and director. So much of what the author talked about was also descriptive of my multi-talented husband Bill. It started me thinking once again about the richness he brought to my daily life for fifty years as he was directing, acting, singing, producing, conducting, and playing the organ or piano. One of his favorite Saturday recreations was to sit at his baby grand piano and accompany himself as he sang tenor arias from all the major operas scores in his ample collection, including those Puccini composed for Cavaradossi. Usually I was his only audience. Like Fosse, he also wore out his heart and died too young. The Saturday after Thanksgiving will mark the sixtieth anniversary of our marriage, and Bill has now missed ten of them. But he was right there with me in the theater all the way through “Tosca” even if he was only in my heart.