Yes, Marshall Anderson and I were looking at naughty videos on YouTube this morning – but it’s not what you think. The videos in question were opera videos and what made them naughty had nothing to do with any of the typical R -rated matters that I imagine such material entails. (I don’t look at that stuff, so I’m speaking in the vaguest of generalities here.)
Some context: Back in the spring of 2008, the Metropolitan Opera marked its 125th anniversary with a star-studded gala concert which promised to be especially intriguing because the singers participating were going to be wearing costumes that were duplicated from historic productions of the past- and in certain cases, portions of the sets from those historic productions would also be re-created, or at the very least projected – in order to give further sense of the singers and audience stepping back into the company’s illustrious history. It was a fascinating concept, and one which obviously needed to be seen to be fully appreciated. I tried to order a ticket for it the first day they went on sale, but came up empty . . and then to make matters worse, the concert was not televised or even recorded for later release on video. So unless you were one of the lucky 4,100 people in the opera house that night, you had to settle for hearing the audio only – and eventually seeing a few still photos of the concert – which for me was not enough. (If I’ve seemed a little bit irritable over the last year and a half, this is why.) It probably does not seem like that big a deal, but it was for me – in the same way it would be a big deal for a Beatles fanatic if Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison (before he died) gathered for a once-only reunion concert that you tried to get tickets for but couldn’t . . . a concert not televised either nor recorded for video. You would be left with this maddening sense of “if only” and this insatiable desire to taste what it would have been like to be there. That was so true in this case because the Met only turns 125 once. . . and these monumental landmark occasions do not come by very often.
Fast forward to this past Thursday night as I was finishing up preparations for my opera class the next morning. I went on YouTube hoping to find a clip of Placido Domingo in the title role of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra – a role he is taking up for the first time at the Met within the next couple of weeks. I thought I might be able to track down a clip of him singing the role someplace else (he’s done it in a number of places) so my class could get at least a little sample. I dutifully typed in “Domingo Simon Boccanegra” – and came up empty except for one file which said Met 125 Gala in the subject line. Curious, I clicked on it. . . and to my utter astonishment, I found myself watching surreptitiously filmed video footage of Placido Domingo and Angela Gheorghiu singing the big Act Two duet on the aforementioned gala concert. This was not just the audio with a still photo for the visuals. This was an actual video obviously made by someone sitting in the audience – an absolute violation of what are very clear and precise rules at the Met (and indeed at most opera houses) forbidding the recording of performances in this way.
And I could care less.
I watched those 4 minutes with my heart pounding ever harder and faster – and then I discovered that there were other excerpts from the gala concert as well . . . each one more exciting than the last. And every so often I felt a peculiar need to pinch myself just to make certain that this wasn’t part of some weird dream I was having. But no, it was absolutely true. Some brave soul had snuck a recording device of some kind into the opera house and did a pretty darned good job of recording about a dozen excerpts from this memorable concert. And even though it was midnight as I was watching this, I found myself absolutely transfixed – and as I finally finished up at five minutes to one, I had to resist the urge to kiss the computer screen. (But I did silently bless the name of Camilla somebody-or-other, the person who posted these illicit videos.)
I decided that I had to make sure that Marshall saw these as well – and since he was already coming to Racine this afternoon to see “Der Rosenkavalier” at the movie theater, I asked him to come an hour early so I could show him something that would be a fun little bonus. And although he didn’t quite go bonkers the way I did, I think he got quite a charge out of watching these videos which until that moment he had no idea even existed. What’s weird to think about is how these videos that put me on cloud nine would put most people to sleep. But that’s part of the fun of YouTube – and the magic of music . . . finding those things that push all of your own buttons and send your spirit soaring. For one person, it might be some Lady Gaga performance – and for someone else, a clip from the very last Lawrence Welk Show. For me, what put me on cloud nine was seeing things I never thought I would get to see. . . such as Waltraut Meier performing Carmen in a replica of the matador-type outfit worn by Rosa Ponselle 70 years ago . . . or seeing Renee Fleming melt the whole room with a sublime performance of Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt,” wearing a replica of the gown worn by Maria Jeritza, the woman who premiered that opera at the Met more than 80 years ago . . . or seeing Placido Domingo garbed just as Enrico Caruso was for Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West” for that work’s world premiere more than 90 years ago.
I can sense most of you yawning. But for Marshall and me, this was the very best kind of treat – because it was one we absolutely could not have foreseen having. And were it not for that sneaky audience member who somehow managed to escape the notice of the Met ushers, it would not have been possible. And for two law & order, church-going former cub scouts like Marshall and me, this is about as “James Dean” as we ever get.
pictured above: Kathy snapped this picture of me pretty much at the instant that I’m showing the first “naughty” video to Marshall.