The weather railed outside the 1891 Fredonia Opera House on Saturday, and strong winds tried to rip the limbs from the trees, but inside, a good-sized audience was listening intently to a grand spectacle which was really happening in New York City, at that very moment.
A few years ago, the Metropolitan Opera, our countrys most respected opera company, began broadcasting their productions live, to be heard and seen in high definition in theaters around the world. Last spring, the Opera House joined the international community of theaters which would be showing the broadcasts.
Saturdays was the first live broadcast in the 2011-12 series of 11 operas which we can attend, without needing to leave the county. The featured work was Gaetano Donizettis grand Anna Bolena, starring the most recognized soprano of the moment: lovely Anna Netrebko.
King Henry VIII confronts his wife, Anne Boleyn, whom he plans to murder, so he may marry another in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Donizetti's opera “Anne Bolena,' as seen in Fredonia's 1891 Opera House on Saturday.
Id like to share with you the experience of seeing the opera in Fredonia, then tell you something about the season of coming possibilities, and then some of the operas history.
THE OPERA HOUSE
Its easy to attend the Met live, in Fredonia. If you traveled to New York City and bought a ticket to the great, golden palace which is the companys theater, it will cost you between $20 for a seat at the back of the top balcony, to $338 for the best seat on the main floor. Its not unusual for the entire house to be sold out, especially when an artist of the celebrity of Ms. Netrebko will be performing live.
In Fredonia, while they had a good crowd, there were empty seats available. The most expensive seat is the $20, which is the fee for the general public, and it will buy you any seat which is unoccupied, when you arrive.
Opera House members get the same ticket for $18, and students get them for $15. If you buy a season ticket, you get all 11 performances for $193, which means they cost about $17.50 each. If you want to argue with me that one performance is already over, its still a bargain for the remaining 10.
The opera house is beautiful, and I find the seats roomy and with plenty of leg room. This is especially true when you can search around for where you will eventually sit.
When you first arrive, the screen will be showing still photos from the coming productions in the season, but as show time approaches, you will find yourself looking at the beautiful Austrian crystal chandeliers and the genuine gold leaf ceiling of the Metropolitan Opera.
The camera glances around the giant auditoriums, showing you the patrons finding their seats, exchanging words -- friendly or not so much -- with other audience members, and largely studying their printed programs, so that they will know what theyre seeing and hearing, during the production.
When there is about five minutes to curtain time, a host -- usually diva Renee Fleming, unless she is singing in the production youre seeing or away in another of the major opera houses of the world -- will show you events back stage, as pieces of scenery rise into the ceiling or drop onto the stage, properties are put in place and members of the chorus begin to take their places for the opening curtain.
The camera shows you the stage manager, calling out places everyone, and soon telling the afternoons orchestra conductor to take his place in the orchestra pit. In some productions, you can follow the conductor as he walks briskly through the tunnel and out onto the podium, in front of the orchestra. The orchestra begins to perform the overture, setting the mood for the beginning of the opera and usually introducing the major musical motifs which will enrich our emotional ties to the various characters and events. Youll get to look him in the face, as though you had qualified to play the viola in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
When the beautiful gold stage curtain rises, or travels sideways into the wings, you encounter the first separation from the audience in Manhattan. They get to decide what they will look at.
If the camera zooms in on the face of the leading lady, thats what you will see. On the other hand, youll see her face the full size of the screen, while they will see her from some distance away. The moment she opens her mouth in New York City, youll see it happen in Fredonia.
Audience members in the giant auditorium get to see the words of an English translation, on a small screen in the back of the seat in front of them -- a similar situation to many airplane rides in todays world. The Fredonia audience gets to see the words at the bottom or the top of the screen, as in the subtitles in a foreign-language film.
If youre familiar with the opera, or with the language in which it was written and know what theyre saying, you can ignore the written words. If you wish to understand better, theyre right there in front of you.
Some members of the audience were so impressed by what they were hearing that they burst into applause, although there is no reverse broadcast, so that the singers and orchestra members could hear the clapping.
Of course, there is no substitute for being there, in the same room with some of the greatest talents in the world, but this way is much closer to that than many people might imagine.
MORE TO COME
If your life could stand a generous infusion of grandeur and passion, allow me to recommend the other 10 operas which will be coming to the opera house in the coming year:
Don Giovanni, by Mozart, will be performed next Saturday at 1 p.m. It is the Italian version of the better-known name Don Juan, and tells the story of the man who traveled around Europe making love to as many beautiful women as he possibly could. The opera is in particular favor around the world at this time, because there has grown up a fantasy that men with voices in the baritone range are especially attractive, and there are three principal roles in the opera to be sung by baritones.
Siegfried by Richard Wagner, is the third of the four operas in the famed Ring Cycle of operas, which has inspired opera lovers to fly around the world in the hope of hearing every possible production. It is the story of the Nordic god Wotan and a magic ring which gave anyone who would foreswear ever being loved, the power to rule the world. It begins at noon on Nov. 5.
Satyagraha by Phillip Glass will be performed on Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. It is lengthy and entirely in Sanskrit, a language not frequently spoken in our country, but it tells about men who have risked their lives to better peoples lives and to bring about peace, especially focusing on Mohandas Gandhi, during the period in his life when he lived and worked in South Africa.
Rodelinde by Handel, will take the stage on Dec. 3, at 12:30 p.m. It is the story of a Queen of Lombardy, in Italy, whose husband is overthrown by another man, who offers to allow her to keep her throne if she will renounce her defeated husband and marry his usurper.
Faust, by Charles Gounod is the popular story of the aged scholar who sells his soul to the devil, in return for having his youth and good looks restored. The young and handsome Faust seduces the innocent Marguerite, but his appointment with the big bad guy makes him a poor choice for a lover.
The Enchanted Island is a most remarkable opera, because it has been created by patching together music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and other composers, rather like a Baroque version of Mamma Mia. The mixed tunes are used to illustrate a story based on Shakespeares play The Tempest. You can hear it Jan.21 at 1 p.m.
Gotterdammerung by Wagner is part four of the famed Ring Cycle. It recounts the destruction of Valhalla, the heaven of Norse mythology, and concludes the story of Siegfried and his beloved Brunhilde. Hear it Feb. 11 at noon. Featured artists include American diva Deborah Voight and Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel.
Ernani by Giuseppe Verdi is available for watching and hearing on Feb. 25 at 1 p.m. It is the story of a nobleman who has been forced into a life of banditry by the Holy Roman Emperor, who has seized his land and driven him out of his country. Will Ernani overpower the mighty emperor, or will his love for Elvira cause him to abandon his revenge.
Manon by Jules Massenet will be sung on April 7, at noon. The gorgeous Anna Netrebko returns to sing the title role. Manon is the story of a young woman, sent in a coach, by her family, to a convent for her education, who encounters a handsome nobleman, at a rest stop, and launches herself into a life of abandon and immorality. Will those who intend to rescue her arrive in time?
La Traviata by Verdi will be performed April 14 at 1 p.m. One of the most popular and frequently-performed of all operas, it is the story of a kept woman who falls deeply in love with a young man, until his father begs her to break off her love affair, as the bad reputation it has produced is destroying the young mans family.
Sometimes just words are not enough to express and examine the depths of our thoughts and feelings. The power of opera can open our hearts and inspire our minds, and you wont hear or see grander opera, in this country, than at the Met.
In all of human history, few families have drawn as much attention or inspired as much literature as Englands Tudor Family.
Donizetti composed three operas about the familys women, the first of which was Anna Bolena. The other two are about the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I. Their titles are Roberto Devereaux about Elizabeths execution of the man she loved, and Maria Stuarda about Elizabeths cousin, Mary Stuart. The Catholic Church, at the time, claimed that Mary, rather than Elizabeth, was Englands rightful queen.
The title is the Italian translation of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Englands Henry VIII. In fact, I was told in a British university class that her name was probably written Nan Bullen, and in one spot in Chester, England, there has been preserved some graffiti which said, Well have no Nan Bullen, which they said dated to the time when Henry divorced his first and very popular wife, Catherine of Aragon, and married the young woman who had captured his fancy.
The opera was written by Donizetti in 1830. It is a type of opera called a tragedia lyrica and uses music in the style called bel canto, or beautiful singing.
The opera opens as the queens marriage has just begun to fail. We are told that she was in love with a minor nobleman named Richard Percy, but she caught the eye of the king, and yielded to his promises of making her the Queen. Now, three years later, Henrys eye has now been captured by his wifes best friend, Jane Seymour, and he is determined to have his wife killed so that he marry his next infatuation.
The production is masterfully staged on the enormous stage of the Met, directed by David McVicar. The set, by Robert Jones builds upon the idea that Henrys plot is closing in on his wife. The dark, gray walls of Greenwich Palace close in, tighter with each scene, until she is led out to her execution through wide doors which release her into a freedom she has never known in life.
The only real color on the stage is a huge tall bed with canopy and curtains, which is blood red. While it is immensely tall, the bed is extremely narrow, as a narrow bed has long been a symbol in poetry for the grave.
Netrebko was in fine voice for this performance, her voice growing and shrinking as her hopes do, down to the final notes. This is an extremely difficult role, and there are people who are certain that no one will ever sing it as well as Maria Callas or as Beverly Sills. Netrebko gave her own rendering of the role, and it was luscious and rich and excellent.
Russian Bass-Baritone Ildar Abdrazakov was the biggest guy on stage, with a deep, powerful voice which made him seem every inch the king, as Enrico or Henry VIII.
A third Russian, Ekatrina Gubanova was not a beauty to rival Netrebko, as Giovanna or Jane Seymour, Boleyns rival, but her voice was strong and wonderfully musical. She said in an interview, during the intermission of the opera, that she didnt see Seymour as ambitious or spiteful, but only as a victim who was singled out by the king and had no choice.
Sure enough, although the part has almost always been performed as something of a villainess, it came out perfectly when she did it her way, and she seemed a true friend, dragged against her will into intrigue and murder.
My life has been made richer and better because of my afternoon in Fredonia. Such an opportunity is available to you, 10 times between now and mid-April. I hope youll take advantage of the opportunity.