October 9, 2011

When an opera house is "the place to be"

People who know me really well know that I have sort of a "thing" about being at "the place to be".  You know what I mean by that, right?  It's the victory party when the guy you voted for won; it's the senior prom when your date is the homecoming Queen (not that I would have any first-hand knowledge in that area); it's being at the Super Bowl (one of the good ones, not a crappy one with just field goals); it's the theater district when you've scored primo tickets to "The Book of Mormon" or whatever SRO smash has the town agog; it's.....

You get the concept.

I still remember a melancholy Fourth of July holiday here on the Virginia Peninsula about twenty years ago when my wife and I went to the banks of the James River to watch our city's fireworks show.  It was a fine show, but I had a problem:  from our vantage point, you could see distant fireworks displays from neighboring communities going on at the same time.  Over to the left, there was Yorktown's show; on the right, fireworks from Norfolk.  And of course, there would be other fireworks shows within a 30-minute drive here in this area, in Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth...

All at once, I grew moody and restless.  Was my local fireworks show "the place to be"?  There were certainly lots of people there who believed it was, but then again the people in Yorktown believed they were at the place to be, and the people in Norfolk believed they were, and so on.

I couldn't enjoy myself.  What if *gulp* none of them were the place to be????  All at once, the world seemed bleak - lonely - futile...  (Why yes, I am a little nuts, actually.  Thanks for asking.) 

And what does all of this hypersensitive psychosis have to do with the opera world, you may well ask?  Quite a bit.  

I can assert with confidence that today, October 9, 2011, I, Glenn Winters, was definitely at "the place to be":  the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, Virginia, for a matinee performance of Aida.  If you were not there, then I pity you because there is no possibility that you were at "the place to be".

We connoisseurs of "place-to-be-ness" understand that it takes a perfect storm of various factors to produce this status.  It's the goal of the opera company, of course, that each and every performance of the season attain "place to be-ness", but I can't say that it happens every time.

If you have an obscure opera being performed on a drab week-night with miserable weather outside and a paltry crowd of a few hundred die-hards, then you may achieve musical artistry, but sorry, pal:  wherever the "place to be" is, it ain't there...

Today was different.  The opera?  A spectacular masterpiece with a lot of buzz around town.  The cast?  No wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-outta-graduate-school apprentices in the cast; nope, these are all seasoned, accomplished, veteran artists.  It definitely adds to the ambiance when that's the case.

And the crowd... oh my, the crowd!  There's a young single mom in the area who's a Facebook friend of mine.  She wanted to attend today but is strapped for cash.  I seldom use the comp tickets I get for each production (a perk of working for the company), so I gallantly offered to leave one at the will-call window in her name.  

In the end, I had to disappoint her. For the first time I can remember in some time, there were no seats remaining.  None.  Zero.  Even the dreaded obstructed-view seats had been sold.  When I entered the grand lobby on the mezzanine for my pre-curtain lecture, there was a teeming mass of humanity taking up every inch of space in the place.  Children? Check.  Young professionals?  Check.  Married couples? Check.  Seniors?  Check.  Racial diversity?  Check.  Every demographic you could imagine?  Well, I didn't actually ask people if they belonged to the Tea Party or supported the Wall Street protests, but I'm guessing both were present.  I'm telling you, there was electricity in the air.  It felt like being at the Academy Awards or something.

WHEEEEE!  That was a fun lecture!  There was so much ambient noise coming from every corner of the building that, despite a powerful sound system to amplify my voice, I had to fairly shout to be heard.

Once the performance began, they had to set up a large-screen plasma TV in the lobby downstairs to accommodate overflow customers.  

I've never been to the World Series or the Kentucky Derby, but on this afternoon the world was my oyster because:

THE OPERA WAS THE PLACE TO BEEEEEEE!!

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