Thursday, January 8, 2009


Last night, my daughter and I clung to each other and wept as Renee Fleming sang her heart out as Thais*, with the Metropolitan Opera. But we weren't at Lincoln Center in New York City. We were at the otherwise quotidian Showcase Cinemas at Buckland Hills in Manchester, CT, eating popcorn and wedges of smuggled-in clementines.

It turns out that culture has reached the hinterlands, by way of "The Met: Live in HD", where stage performances of the great operas are broadcast to your local cinema (well, not our local cinema, exactly...but we'll discuss Destinta some other time.)

If you are an opera buff, then you probably already know this. But if you are not (which would be an accurate description of yours truly), then you have just been handed a glorious opportunity. Every few weeks, you can spend your Saturday afternoon (or Wednesday evening) discovering this art form, now de-mystified with subtitles. There are even backstage shots and interviews during the long intermissions. Tickets are $18, which is less than the cost of a train ticket to NYC.

Did I mention that the opera was fabulous? Thais is an Egyptian courtesan who converts to Christianity and repents her wicked ways, due to some dedicated missionary work by a monk named Athanaƫl, who unfortunately falls in love with the lamb he brings to God. Thus losing his soul.

In the words of my 14-year-old, "it rocked."

Thomas Hampson was broken by love, Renee Fleming was gorgeous (what kind of example was I setting for my kid, snacking on contraband and snapping illegal photos with my iphone?) and the costumes and sets were to-die-for. We loved listening to the costume mistress describe how each piece of fabric was dyed-by-hand and how it takes 120 hours to make just one dress.

We weren't the only Middletown locals in the crowd. When the lights came up on the first intermission, we bumped into the Steins and Silbersteins (from Portland).

Just for the record, they were the ones who smuggled in the clementines. They've been taking in the Wednesday night "encore" performances in the series, to avoid the Saturday crowds.

If you want to get tickets to the Met broadcasts, you can go to Next up is "La Rondine" by Puccini, the story of a "kept woman who gambles on true love". Later this month, it's "Orfeo ed Euridice" by Gluck, the Greek myth of the musician who follows his late wife into the underworld, hoping to win her back.

*Thais should have 2 little dots over the "i". It is pronounced "Thai-ese" and was written in the 1890's by Jules Massenet.

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