I have officially begun my Carthage spring break tonight by cleaning out our guest bedroom – Yahoo! – because we’re giving our twin bed to our niece Lorelai. If I had let Mark into that room without cleaning it, he would have died from the shock and Kathy and I would have died from the embarrassment, so cleaning the room seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. But all evening long, I have been haunted by one thought: I wish I was on my way to New York City to attend a very special birthday party.
The party is for the Metropolitan Opera, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary with an enormous and elaborate gala concert this Sunday afternoon featuring a dazzling array of opera superstars. I know for some of you the thought of a three-hour opera concert ranks right below ‘having a root canal’ on your list of things you most want to do. But I wish I could be there in the worst way, and the fact that I am already moping about it two days beforehand makes me wonder how much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth there will be when Sunday afternoon itself rolls around.
I’m sounding like quite the opera fanatic, I know, but the fact is that an opera company like the Met celebrates these milestones only so often. . . and each occasion can never be repeated. When the Met celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1983, I was a poor graduate student in Lincoln, Nebraska whose diet of choice – because it was so cheap – was generic grape jelly on generic bread. The thought of attending that concert was patently absurd – the thought honestly never crossed my mind – and I had to be content with watching it on my little 9-inch black and white television set. And since the concert was both in the afternoon and evening, and I had a “Coronation of Poppea” rehearsal that night, I brought the TV along and set it up in my dressing room so I could watch the gala whenever I wasn’t onstage. The reception was horrible, and thanks to the blurry triple image each female singer looked like a circus fat woman with three heads, and the sound was roughly comparable to a bad walkie talkie; such a cheap, tiny television set was not exactly designed to convey the splendor of grand opera! But at least I was watching it and experiencing a bit of opera history that day and night.
25 years later, the Met is celebrating Birthday #125 with a gala concert that sounds absolutely incredible. Through the wonders of modern technology, the Met will be recreating sets and images from some of the most memorable productions from its history, and many of the singers performing on the concert will be wearing costumes that are faithful reproductions of the costumes originally worn by the likes of Enrico Caruso and other legends of the past. The lineup of singers is imposing, and at the center of it all will be the incomparable Placido Domingo celebrating the 40th anniversary of his Met debut. It will be a historic occasion in every way and I would give just about anything to be there, if for no other reason than to see how they manage to pull off such an extraordinary feat. I really really want to be there.
And I tried. . . especially when I first realized that the 125th gala just happened to fall on the first weekend of my Carthage spring break. It was as though God Himself was saying “Go to the Gala, Greg! Go to the Gala!” It seemed like it was meant to be, and all that remained was the pesky little matter of getting a ticket. For that task, I enlisted Marshall’s aid since he’s a donor to the Met and thus had a slight “in” when it came to purchasing tickets. But apparently 2/3’s of the western world was desperate for tickets because the phone lines were jammed and before he could do a thing about it, every reasonably priced ticket had been snapped up. I can still see myself standing in a Subway restaurant in Dubuque, Iowa on an afternoon in Auguest, receiving the bad news from Marshall via my cell phone and trying my best to take it like a man and failing miserably. Of course, the world looked very different back in August and it felt like money was growing on trees. Now a quick trip to NYC and a $200 ticket to a Met concert seem like insane extravagances, especially in light of the nearly $1000 in car repairs we had in December, the hundreds of dollars we spent to fix our garage door opener in February, and the hundreds of dollars we are about to spend replacing our dishwasher. Given all that, it’s probably just as well that I’m not on the guest list for this weekend’s concert.
I would really feel better if this concert were being televised – but as of right now, there seem to be no plans whatsoever for that to happen . . . perhaps due to the severe economic downturn which is shaking the Met as it’s shaking the rest of the planet. Nor is it something one can hear over the radio, as far as I can tell, unless one owns one of those fancy Sirius radio units – which we don’t. At the moment, at least, this is a birthday party pretty much limited to those lucky few thousand people who will be in the Met Sunday afternoon.
And me- I’ll read about it afterwards and harbor hopes of maybe getting to the Met for their 150th anniversary gala- assuming that the Met is still around then . . . and assuming that I’m still alive and well. After all, I will be 73 years old when that occasion rolls around. And hopefully by then I will have learned a thing or two about shaking off life’s disappointments.
In the meantime, it’s time for me to Snap Out Of It.
Wish me luck with that.