Monday, February 27, 2006


Last night I went to Carnegie Hall for the first time. A good friend from college was making her debut there as a soloist in an opera-in-concert. In general, I don't believe in dressing for the theatre. (I also don't believe in spelling it that way, but since I work for Canadians Word auto-corrects my lowly American English and I'm too lazy (damn American) to change it back.) I think it implies an elitism that, for the sake of my own livelihood, I'm happy to see go away...not that that's likely to happen when Broadway tickets top $100, but that's a topic for another post. Of course I'm not saying dress like a slob, you're out in public and in close proximity to other people, after all, but I don't think you need to "dress up."

However, this was Carnegie Hall, and it was opera (which I pretty much never attend), and it was a big deal event for my friend (who was radiant and wonderful, by the way), so I felt like it was worth making a "thing" over. I wore a suit and I gave Boy a hard time over his more casual choice.

I needn't have bothered. The audience's attire ran the gamut from a man in a giant fur coat somewhere between pimp and live bear, and the group of teenage girls behind us in jeans and sneakers (who gave me a fright when I saw them, and even more of one when I eavesdropped on their conversation before the show, but I have to say they were some of the best-behaved theatregoers I've ever encountered). There were some immaculately tailored young eurotrash opera queens, and a surprisingly large number of older gentlemen who apparently stopped updating their wardrobe and jewellery some time in the mid-70s.

As for the fabled hall, the auditorium was lovely; not terribly ornate, and I had some sightline issues, but the acoustics are brilliant, and that's what it was built for. The other public spaces, on the other hand, are a disaster. I can't imagine this is a consequence of the place being old, since it's always had to hold the same number of people and serve the same basic functions. I've never seen such a terrible traffic jam at a box office, which is blocked by columns that both get in the way of getting in and out, and obscure the view from the other side of the lobby so that you can't tell which window to line up at. It's impossible to form a line for the bathrooms without blocking 2 doorways and the stairs. Getting from one side of the house to the other (and therefore, from the side with the ladies' room to the side with the men's room) requires travelling a narrow area inside the house, behind the last row of seats, in which people naturally are milling about, talking and stretching their legs. And speaking of those people, I'd expect better from a crowd that's supposedly smart and cultured and has probably been to this house before. Several times someone in front of me stepped into a doorway then stopped dead, realizing she didn't know where to go next. People stood in aisles and stairways, completely oblivious of their own bodies in a high traffic area. I know I complain about this a lot, and I accept that in many ways it's the nature of a big city or any large group of people, but for god's sake pay attention to the world around you and move your fat ass!

That said, as someone who doesn't like opera much (it's a stylistic problem, not a conceptual one; obviously I love musical theatre), I was astonished at how much I enjoyed it. Though it's probably not something I'm going to run out and buy a recording of, I thought the score was lovely, and to my untrained ear all the singers were great. Though I don't generally find glass-shattering sopranos appealing, actually watching someone make those sounds come out of her body live is pretty impressive. And I love an event during which I'm actually encouraged to read. The house lights stayed up at about 3/4 for the whole show, so we could follow our translated libretti. So when I got bored (and my friend wasn't on) I could flip to the essay on the composer and the performers' bios and let the opera become background music for a bit. And it wasn't considered rude! (I suppose it might be considered rude to read something other than the libretto, but who but Boy and the teenagers behind me would ever know?)

Just being there made me a little bit gayer: It inspired me to look up Judy Garland's concert there on Netflix. Alas (or probably for the best, really), it's not on DVD.

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