I watched Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” last night at the New York Metropolitan Opera. It had everything a 19th Italian opera is expected to have: a lurid and wildly improbable plot that features infanticide, people-burning, attempted abduction, metallurgy, gypsies, duels, battles, jealousy, onstage make-outs, suicide and fratricide, all wrapped up in the beautiful music of Verdi that is sung even when people are dying or going to die onstage.
I came to watch it for two things: to find out the context of the “Anvil Chorus” and because cheap seats were available (I didn’t have to stand). The music was as conventional as it gets (it's Verdi after all) and there was only one really big scene, the opening of the second act when gypsies sang the “Anvil Chorus” to the rhythmic pounding of actual anvils onstage. That was a thrill.
I adored the mezzo-soprano who played the role of Azucena, the gypsy mother. She had a rich full-bodied voice that reached out above the sounds of the orchestra up into where I was, on Family Circle, a nice name for the nose-bleed section. Not so impressive was the tenor, a Korean singer replacing an ailing tenor originally slated to perform the role. His voice seemed thin in comparison to the mezzo, although by and large, he did the job in sportsmanlike fashion. The soprano impressed me with her really strong vocal command, sweet in one instance, hysterical the next. I was especially amazed at her high C's while she lay on the floor singing an aria while she was dying of a self-administered poison. Cool! The baritone was profound, like baritones are supposed to be.
The orchestra members scooted out immediately as soon as the opera ended. When the soloists and conductor were bowing to the generally enthusiastic crowd, the pit was already empty. That deprived the conductor and singers a chance to gesture at the orchestra, prompting them to stand and acknowledge the applause. As a musician who has backed up shows endlessly on cruise-ships I know the feeling. Done that, we’re out of here, bravos be damned, crew-bar here I come! Besides, the opera was three hours long. Four young men seated in front of me walked out after intermission and never came back. They could have relocated themselves somewhere else in the house or (and I suspect this), they could have transferred themselves to the Boom-boom Room at the Standard.
I enjoyed this “Il Trovatore” immensely, especially because I was able to accommodate my derriere in a plush seat. I saw “La Boheme” standing up for three hours. I’m not going to do that again.
There were a lot of empty seats in the house, especially in our section. In fact, there was only one other person in my row. She was German. She said she was in New York with her husband. They lived in Basel, Switzerland. They only had five days in the city (it was a business trip): “Too short!” she complained. They were staying at the Sherry-Netherlands, which is a pretty pretty pretty ritzy hotel. She was fulfilling a lifelong dream to watch an opera at the Met. Her husband stayed behind at the hotel. She had already seen “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins” (“I enjoyed that!” she proclaimed.) She was beaming with joy.
It looked like she was ready to sing the Anvil Chorus with her husband back at the Sherry-Netherlands Hotel.
Auf wiedersehen, fraulein!