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11 reasons why the Metropolitan Opera is seriously underrated

midcentury buildings in NYC
Photograph: Shutterstock

Opera gets a bad rap. Even the most serious culture vultures—people who read Tolstoy and visit obscure art galleries on the regular—somehow still see the opera house as a place for old fuddy-duddies. Believe it or not, it’s not as stuffy as it seems. The Metropolitan Opera—the crème de la crème of all venues—is glitzy, glamorous and totally accessible to the average viewer. Plus, you get the chance to hear some truly incredible music. Not convinced yet? Here’s 11 more reasons why you should buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera.

1. It’s widely regarded as one of the best venues in the world
The Metropolitan Opera is the largest—and most important—classical music organization in North America. That’s nothing to sniff at. Almost all the greats (including Placido Domingo, Renée Fleming and Anna Netrebko) have performed at the Met. Since the program also attracts some of the world’s top directing and conducting talent, every production is pretty special.

2. It’s a 133-year-old institution
The building itself is fairly young—it just celebrated its fiftieth birthday in 2016—but the actual opera has been around for much longer. Believe it or not, when it was founded in 1883, it was a less stuffy alternative to the Academy of Music opera house, which the high society crowd claimed as their own. Lesser known patrons started going to the Met, and it quickly became the star of the scene.

3. You can check out the building’s stunning architecture up close
The glass and bronze facade you see from the outside is only part of the building’s charm. Inside the lobby, you’ll notice two 30-foot high murals by Marc Chagall, The Triumph of Music and The Sources of Music, covered in angels and mermaids playing musical instruments. Then there’s the dazzling Swarovski crystal chandeliers—a gift from the Austrian government to thank the U.S. for its help after World War II. Did we mention the ceiling is entirely covered in 23-karat gold leaf?

4. The orchestra and chorus are just as phenomenal as the performers
It’s worth reiterating: the caliber of musicians at the Met is nothing short of world class. Even if the soprano doesn’t quite do it for you, the orchestra surely will. To score a coveted seat, musicians must make it through an arduous series of blind auditions—like The Voice, but way more intense, since more than 200 people typically apply for each position.

5. Feast your eyes on the elaborate staging, set pieces and costumes  
The stage completely transforms for every performance. For Rusalka, it might look like a fairy-tale wood, then morph into the ancient Egyptian pyramids a few days later for a production of Aida. It’s all thanks to a talented team of set designers and lighting engineers, and the results can be completely breathtaking.

6. It’s a great excuse to get all dolled up
While there’s no formal dress code, opera-goers usually use the luxe surroundings as inspiration for their outfits. Ladies might go all out with a glitzy dress and heels, while gentlemen might throw on a sports jacket and maybe even a bow tie. If you need any more fashion advice, the Last Night at the Met street style blog should give you some ideas.

7. You don’t have to speak French, or Spanish, or Italian
Contrary to popular belief, you can follow along without knowing exactly what the performers are saying. Listen to the music, people! If you’re really struggling, though, the Met has a solution: Each seat has a small screen with a live translation of the performance, if you need it.

8. They’re not all five hours long
Sure, operas do tend to go on a little longer than most plays and musicals, but that typically includes an intermission or two. If you don’t want to be stuck in the theater forever, just pick a shorter opera. Der Fliegende Holländer lasts a little over 2 hours, and La Traviata clocks in at 2 hours and 30 minutes. That’s much shorter than any of the Lord of the Rings movies.

9. Even your most cultured friends probably haven’t been to opera
Opera just hasn’t caught on with most millennials in the same way that Broadway shows and indie bands have. Impress your circle with your newfound knowledge of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and who knows—maybe they’ll start going with you.

10. There’s something for everyone
The Met puts on 26 operas each season, ranging from tragic love stories to comedy. Hopeless romantics must go see the love story to end all love stories, Romeo et Juliette. If you’re into epic dramas like Fatal Attraction and Casablanca, check out Carmen. For something a little lighter, try a comedic opera, like Il Barbiere Di Siviglia—it even has a happy ending. Each season includes more than 200 performances, so you can definitely squeeze one of them into your busy schedule.

11. It’s more affordable than you think
Yes, orchestra seats can cost an arm and a leg, but you can score surprisingly cheap tickets if you book ahead of time. Seats in the upper balcony can go for as little as $33, and if you’re willing to give up the cushy chair, you can snag standing room tickets from the Met for just $25. Just be sure to book your tickets quickly before prices go up!

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Comments

2 comments
Douglas G

Consider using this as a separate post. Let me know. Thanks. Dr. Doug

Got my tickets for the Flying Dutchman and Romeo and Juliette


Can We Save Opera? The Barriers to Digging the World's Greatest Art Form


by Douglas W. Green, EdD

@DrDougGreen

http://DrDougGreen.Com


As a principal of a school with 90% poverty and 25% refugees, I brought in the local opera company in to do assemblies (Tri-Cities Opera, Binghamton, NY). Their shows were very big hits with the students. Part of the reason I think is that my kids weren't jaded yet. They were exposed to other music, but no one told them that opera was yucky. As an opera lover, I go to performances whenever I can and unfortunately, the typical crowd appears to have a median age greater than my 68 years. We need to fix that as it is easy to make the case that opera is the greatest art form humans have ever invented. It usually features the best orchestras, the best singers, very interesting sets, and excellent costumes and lighting. Sometimes there is even some top dancing. 


So if it is so good, why don't more people dig it? I think there are four reasons. The first is that it features classical music. It is not your current popular tunes for the most part. It is the type of orchestral music that was big prior to the time when we all had radio, TV and popular music. I was a college student in the late 60s. By the time my senior year rolled around, I had a few credits to play with so I took a music appreciation course. It was essentially a name that tune course featuring the greatest hits of classical music. Even though I wasn't a classical fan at the time, I knew that this music had to be good or it wouldn't be "classical." Something simply doesn't last if is isn't good or great. For some reason, I knew that this stuff was an acquired taste and worth some effort.


Once you enjoy classical orchestra music, the next barrier is what opera does to the human voice. Operas tend to push the envelope of what the human voice can do much more than popular singing. Only the best singers can handle the opera parts. Since most people don't hear this type of singing and can sing like this, their ears don't get accustomed to it. As an acquired taste, most people have to listen to it for a while before they can appreciate it. 


Some opera singing is easier to appreciate that others for people just getting started. There are starter operas, complications of popular arias, and there are operas that you should stay away from at first. Puccini is a good place to start as a lot of his work has ben taken to Broadway in one form or another. The musical "Rent" is essentially Puccini's "La Boheme" and you can hear a number of Puccini's themes in works by Andrew Lloyd Weber and others. Some work by Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, and Rossini are also easy to appreciate. I would avoid the Wagner and Strauss at first but don't rule them out later on as they are among the best.


The third barrier, especially guys, are the plots. They tend to be something you could summarize in at Tweet. They are essentially the "chick flicks" of the music world. By that I mean no offense to women, but they are not exactly full of action. There is lots of love and outfits and furniture, but not a lot of what many men look for in movies. It's kind of anti-James Bond. As I watched a lot of girly movies while my wife was suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), I have become more tolerant to plots where not a lot happens. For me, the music and the singing makes up for it and I don't have to spend much time figuring a tricky plot. 


Finally, there is the language. Most operas are not done in English. There are some more modern works that were written in English, and there are English translations for many standards. You can read English translations on the back of your seat or over the stage to keep track of the plot, but it is usually summarized in your program. Listening to Italian, French, or German is a bit like listening to Celtic music in Gaelic so go for it.


When I shared this article with some friends, they mentioned length and price as possible barriers. The cost of an opera is usually similar to the cost of a musical. You can pay a lot or a little depending on your seat and the location of the opera. As for length, operas do run longer than musicals. With a single intermission of half and hour, the typical opera runs about three and a half hours. Some, however, can last beyond five hours so try to check that out before you commit. The way I look at it is that you get more for your money at an opera.


As for the cliche that says "an opera isn't over until the fat lady sings," that hardly describes reality. Any female lead will sing many times during a single opera, and while some of them are on the large side of average and a few are very big, the typical opera singer is more likely to be relatively slender and attractive. In a way, opera singers are like athletes. They need to be able to move gracefully and look good in their costumes. My favorite opera women are Rene Fleming and Anna Netrebko who are anything but fat ladies.


If you aren't into opera yet, there is still time as long as you are generating carbon dioxide. If you have children or grandchildren, take them to an opera if you can. They won't know that it isn't cool and in the process you to just might realize that it is indeed the greatest art form humans have ever created. You will also help the audience become a bit less gray and ensure that it won't fade away.