Strangely enough, I have lived in New York State for five years and never visited New York City. That is, until I moved to Long Island. Ever since I moved to Long Island, I’ve been seeking a way to leave. While that takes time (probably a few years), I can escape to NYC for a day. Of course, I always say “hello” to the most famous big cats guarding the New York Public Library (as every librarian and bookworm should) and check out a museum or two. I also go to the Metropolitan Opera.
How can someone living off of two part time jobs afford a ticket to the Met Opera, you ask? Well, if you don’t mind climbing four sets of carpeted stairs, craning your neck to the side for four hours and only seeing about ¾ of the set, then it’s an affordable ticket for anyone. I never thought of myself as someone who enjoys opera. Even though I enjoy drama, classical music, and outrageous costumes and sets- opera always seemed unobtainable. The only opera I knew was from Bugs Bunny. While it’s a little over the top, the Bugs Bunny version is not completely off.
Technically, I have an associate’s degree in theater. While I wasn’t great at set designs, lighting, or acting, I did enjoy the brief history of the stage (italics for the overly dramatic voice). For example, the box seats were originally meant for royalty, politicians, and those lucky few who could afford it. Ironically, those very same box seats are the absolute worst place to sit! Which is why they are one of the most affordable seats at The Met Opera (also the very very very back of the house)
It is strange going to an opera when your main source of entertainment is Bob’s Burgers and cat videos on YouTube. I always feel like I should be wearing a fur coat and giant diamond earrings when I walk around The Met because I see some people wearing just that! But, I also see more people who look like me, wearing their best dress from Stitch Fix that makes you look like $75 instead of the usual $10.
The Magic Flute
Since my partner and I do not live close to family we make our own holiday traditions. On Christmas, for example, we play the Christmas episodes of a TV show as we open gifts and eat Chinese food for lunch and the leftovers for dinner. This year, we added to our tradition by going to the opera on Christmas Eve.
Every year the Met Opera performs The Magic Flute on Christmas Eve and it is magical! You may recognize one of it’s most famous pieces. Experiencing this live and close to the stage (cheap tickets on Christmas Eve) was extraordinary! After her last note was sung, there was a very brief stunned silence followed by a standing ovation- I’m convinced everyone in the room had chills.
Seeing the Magic Flute really changed my perspective on operas. Like most people my age when we hear the word opera we think of Bugs Bunny, a larger woman in a viking hat and complicated plots. Honestly, most of that is true (I’m not sure about the Viking hat maybe pure tv fantasy). The plots can be complicated. And I usually wiki the opera for a quick synopsis. Like plays, operas have a program with 80% advertisements and 10% information about the opera plot. The program for the Magic Flute had a graphic novel to explain the plot! Whoever’s job it was to make the program- give them a promotion! That was brilliant!
For this special occasion of seeing an opera on Christmas Eve, we sat on the first floor closer to the stage. We were surrounded by families with middle school aged kids, grandparents, and single people who needed a break from their own families. There were no fur coats or diamond earrings that night.
This opera by Mozart has an outrageous plot in a fantasy world, giving director free creative range. This particular arrangement of Magic Flute has each character represent an animal or element. And the set was essentially a giant hollow box that rotated and changed shapes throughout the opera! The box is made of some transparent material allowing colored lights to change the mood of each scene. So if you got lost in the plot, you could at least enjoy the most visually appealing sets and costumes!
One of the first opera my partner took me to was Manon a complicated and over dramatic opera that lasted at least three hours. It was also in French and yes, my four years of French in high school and college completely failed me (but all opera houses have translations scrolling across a screen either on the chairs or above the stage). Might as well jump in the deep end of opera for the first time, right?
However, this opera was hilarious because it was so dramatic! The basic plot of Manon is a story of a young girl named Manon, from the French countryside who visits her cousin in a large city. She is overwhelmed by the crowds, fancy clothes, and crazy parties. Of course, she falls in love with the first guy she meets (Hello, Disney? Would you like the plot to all of your movies back?) and her cousin is not pleased. Why? Because she is so young and so beautiful and could have a very rich husband! Manon learns that her new beau has been cut off from his rich father because he ran off with her. So now, she has to choose between love and money.
That was just part one! There are two more acts! Long story short, Manon leaves her beau for a rich old guy and lives in the life of luxury for a couple of years. Suddenly, her beau comes back to town with his broken heart and bank account full of daddy’s money. Manon realizes that she has always loved him (it helps that he has money too) and leaves the rich old guy for her beau. Well, the rich old guy isn’t pleased and when he sees the two at a popular gambling house, he claims the beau is stealing money.
A huge riot breaks out and both Manon and her beau are arrested. The beau’s daddy pays his bond but hates Manon so much that he refuses to pay her bond. So Manon is stuck in a French prison. The opera ends with Manon dying in prison (good ol’ 18th century French prison standards will do that to ya) and the beau sweetly telling her goodbye. Her last words are “I am dying. This is the end of the story of Manon”. When you thought it couldn’t get any more dramatic, it does!
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
So, why did I write an entire blog post on operas? Well, it’s something that I enjoy seeing. I also hope it inspires others to try something new and outside of their comfort zone. As I said before, I thought operas were out of bounds to me because of finances and my understanding of them. But I was wrong (thank goodness!). Operas and opera performers are not stuffy nor out of bounds for anyone. My partner found an article about one opera singer, Stephanie Blythe, who started performing in drag! If you watch the video (which you should, I’ll wait…..), she mentions how opera and drag live in the same house. She is absolutely right!
And since the two live in the same house, the two should be open to everyone who is brave enough to see something amazing and beautiful. Stephanie and others broke out of their comfort zones and inspired others to break out of internalized barriers. Don’t let yourself stop you from going to or doing something out of your comfort zone.
Go see an opera. Take up knitting. Perform in a drag show. Travel by yourself. Apply for a shit ton of jobs. Your comfort zone will always be there and there is always space to add.