One of countless things I love about having a career as an artist is being afforded the opportunity to personally observe an individual’s perspective–my own or that of a member of my family or a friend–with regard to a particular work of art and how that perspective can change over time due to any number of reasons. With repeated viewings or listenings, and thus familiarity, it is to be expected that one’s response to and estimation of any work of art is altered. But more intriguing to me is that one’s interpretation of a work can morph for contextual reasons unrelated to the artistic experience itself: events in one’s personal life, the current political climate, or even the season in which the experience takes place.
If it’s an opera we’re talking about, one obvious catalyst for edification can simply be seeing and hearing a different cast sing the same opera. Also, because the conductor leading the proceedings can greatly influence a performance, and thus one’s response, the same could be said of seeing the opera led by a different conductor. Likewise, seeing the same opera in another production or in another opera house can elicit a revelation.
Often, as a performer, I find I am able to gain perspective from those in the audience.
As I write this, I have now performed the first of seven scheduled performances of the gargantuan (time-wise, anyway) opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner. Anyone who knows Wagner knows that he would never use one reiteration of a theme when ten would do. “Ah, but it’s in the subtle ways he changes those themes!” say fans; detractors cite physical pain and serious time commitment as deterrents to their enjoyment of his works.
I happen to love playing Wagner. He wrote beautifully for the orchestra and, for those who delve into the score, there are all kinds of “hidden”, often humorous, asides and commentary upon the characters and actions onstage from “voices” within the orchestra. Many times the orchestra functions either as a character itself or in the role of revealing an unknown truth about a character. Fascinating stuff!
That said, Meistersinger is truly one of the most challenging works that we play as an orchestra if for no other reason than its duration. There are operas that are almost as long, Götterdämmerung for example (by Wagner…who else?), but the difference is that the first act of Götterdämmerung lasts a little over two hours. The two acts following it are proportionally not nearly as long.
I like to compare the challenge of playing Meistersinger to the Tour de France. Ever notice how those god-awful hills are often near the very end of a day’s exhausting stage through Les Alpes? Climbs are assigned difficulty incrementally from Catégorie 4 (easiest) to Catégorie 1 (hardest). But then there are those mountain passes that are even more impossibly steep and/or the cyclists approach them at such a late time in the stage–when they are most fatigued. These climbs are considered beyond even the challenge of Catégorie 1 and are termed hors catégorie, or “beyond categorization”.
I played Meistersinger my first season and have played every single performance in every revival that has taken place in my twenty-two seasons at the Met. It is not news to me that it is a marathon. But thanks to two separate events this week, I have a slightly different, and welcome, view of the challenge it presents to audience members.
(1) Prior to the 6PM curtain of Die Meistersinger this past Tuesday, our piccolo player Stephanie Mortimore, was on the subway going to work. A few violinist colleagues happened to board the same car and a discussion about the impending long evening of work ahead ensued. Eavesdropping on their conversation, a woman who was obviously on her way to the Met as well commented to the musicians that she and her companion were not anticipating that that they would make it to the bitter end. “Well, it’s not like we have a choice,” Stephanie replied with a smile. Apparently, the fiddle cases had not registered with the couple, so Stephanie explained. “We’re in the Met Orchestra. We’ll be there for the WHOLE THING.”
(2) Then today, friends of mine composed a blog post detailing their personal experiences surrounding this very same performance. It happened to be their first time to ever see the opera. I found their post witty, knowledgeable, and insightful. I particularly liked the way each of them mentioned preparations they had made in advance of the performance–professionally as well as personally–in order to maximize their stamina and longevity for the siege ahead. In spite of their precautions, however, back pains and worries of deep-vein thrombosis marred their experience at least somewhat. They were suitably proud to report that they, unlike many seated near them in the Dress Circle, had not only made it to the beginning of Act III but were still there for the climactic Festwiese at the very end.
The thought had never occurred to me, I suppose, that those in the audience do have the option of leaving before the end of the opera and that this could be either a premeditated plan or that they could fuggi on a whim.
Trust me, I am aware that audiences often high-tail it out of the opera house if they don’t like the production or the singing that night or if they become physically ill or if they just find themselves tired after a long day at the office. I get that.
But what I had failed to think of before was (1) how daunting some audience members apparently find attending this particular opera–enough so to give a disclaimer to strangers on the subway or (2) how having attended this opera in its entirety clearly bestows certain merit.
My next thought was that that sense of personal pride and accomplishment should be encouraged and even rewarded in some tangible way. Perhaps those exiting at 12:10AM or so could have their tickets stamped by ushers upon their exit. Later, these “survivors” could go to the Met Opera Shop and present their stamped ticket stubs in exchange for a pin or a T-shirt proclaiming “I SURVIVED DIE MEISTERSINGER!” or “MEISTER OPERAGOER” or some such sentiment.
Heck, why limit it to Meistersinger, though? What if those hard-core operagoers who sit through an entire opera of five hours’ length or more were to have their time, effort, and devotion acknowledged in some way? I’m imagining a Passport-like booklet to be given to audience members at performances of great length and each opera being assigned a unique stamp or sticker to be affixed that would only be made available at the conclusion of the opera.
But hundreds of words later, I must acknowledge that this is supposedly a blog devoted to baseball, and believe it or not, this post does in fact have a baseball tie-in:
This idea of a special memento being given to the most dedicated of opera enthusiasts was inspired by my knowledge of similar incentives given to die-hard baseball fans. The former ballpark of the San Francisco Giants, Candlestick Park, was infamous for its many bitterly cold games, primarily due to its proximity to the San Francisco Bay. In an effort to encourage the continued support of the team by the fans, management came up with the “Croix de Candlestick”. In the event of a night game that went into extra innings, those die-hard fans who stayed until the bitter(ly cold) end, were presented with this personal badge of honor upon exiting the ballpark.
Opera and baseball are performed/played to a fan base. Many of those fans are regulars and often make personal sacrifices to be in the house/stands for prolonged periods of time.
Shouldn’t the audience members themselves share in the accolades at the end of a long performance?
If you are in the audience at one of the Meistersinger performances in the upcoming weeks and you see me clapping in the pit at the end, please know that I am applauding YOU as well as the cast.
“Timing is everything.”
How many times have we heard that expression? It has certainly proven true recently in this house of Mets fans.
The high praise recent lavished upon my husband–while certainly well deserved–is owed, in part at least, to coincidence and excellent timing.
A die-hard Mets fan basically from the infancy of the franchise, my husband never appears happier or more youthful than when attending a Mets game. He was recently rewarded handsomely for the hefty price of our Season Ticket package, not to mention the expenditure of vast amounts of his personal time spent watching the futility that is the Mets’ offense in general and with the bases loaded in particular: he got to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch at Citi Field.
Apparently, the designated First Pitch Thrower du Jour was unable to “go on”, and a suitable “cover” had to be found. Citi Field officials need have looked no further.
While Garry showed no signs of being nervous about his assignment, as it got close to his scheduled performance, he did admit to a fear of spiking the ball. And ideally, he added, he would like to throw the ball so that Mets Catcher Anthony Recker would not need to leave his crouch in order to catch the ball. However, if either scenario were to happen, he reasoned aloud, he would be in good company: he recalled how former Mets ace Tom Seaver had thrown out the first pitch at “Shea Goodbye”–the last game at Shea Stadium–and had spiked the ball. He also recalled that when Seaver threw out the first pitch at the 2013 All-Star Game, his throw came in quite high and outside and had required former Mets Catcher Mike Piazza to leap to his feet in order to catch it.
Other than these minor concerns, Garry showed no signs of performance anxiety whatsoever. In fact, he appeared rather poised and purposeful. (See if you don’t agree from the photo!) Dutifully following the instructions he had been given to “follow David Wright” (!), he strode onto the field with aplomb. I will never forget the image of him shadowing Mets Pitcher Jon Niese.
Wisely electing to throw from in front of the mound, Garry did one heck of a job, and I was not the only one who thought so. He did not spike the ball nor did Recker need to leave his crouch in order to catch the ball. As the two posed for a photo together, Recker even complimented Garry on his pitch.
Later that evening, sitting in our Excelsior Level seats directly in front of WOR announcers Josh Lewin and Howie Rose–with whom we delight in having as our audio accompaniment to each and every home game–Garry found himself somewhat (pleasantly) distracted from the game itself–and his usual scorekeeping ritual–as compliments kept coming in:
Friend, Mets blogger, and auteur exceptionnel Greg Prince came down from the Press Box to personally shake Garry’s hand. (Later, he would even mention Garry in his blog post about that night!) Plaudits for Garry’s efforts came over the WOR airwaves and into our earbuds as Howie Rose gave Garry a shout-out and a verbal “pat on the back”, adding that, “D’Arnaud would’ve framed it for a strike.” As a matter of fact, Howie had begun discussing Garry’s pre-game experience and, before he could finish the story, he was interrupted by the Yasiel Puig Web Gem that would become a viral .gif before the Seventh Inning Stretch. Even after that astonishing play that had left everyone in the stands momentarily speechless and, then, had even Mets fans applauding, Howie remembered having introduced Garry’s tale, and returned to the subject. Flattering, to say the least!
Yes, timing was in Garry’s favor on Thursday, May 22nd: He happened to be at Citi Field earlier than usual for that night’s game in order to sample “Nobu Night” at the Acela Club; therefore, he could assure Mets personnel that he would indeed be on-hand at the prescribed time.
But the fortuitous timing to which I refer was actually tied to a later event. A few days later.
Still “after glowing” about his unique souvenir, he came home that night to find that word had quickly spread about his special opportunity, and emails demanding explanations and details were coming in at an alarming rate. He sat down at his computer and composed a short synopsis of how the event had come about, how he thought he had performed, and the critiques he had received. He attached one of the numerous photos that my daughter and I had each taken of him from our position on the warning track. He then sent the email out to all potentially interested parties.
Initially, he received a flurry of emails in response . Friday brought more feedback. By that weekend, responses had slowed somewhat, but as the work week started on Monday, replies came from those colleagues who had taken a long weekend and not checked their work email since earlier the previous week and, thus, had just found out Garry’s news.
On Tuesday, rapper 50 Cent was given Ceremonial First Pitch honors. And he proceeded to bring dishonor on himself, frankly.
His throw was so wildly off-course that news of this charade was picked up by national media. Writers at the Washington Post even drew up a chart of “bests” and “worsts” in Ceremonial First Pitch Hall of Famedom to put his mishap in proper perspective.
First-pitch-related emails and texts to Garry recommenced. Friends’ and colleagues’ estimation of Garry’s feat shot up even higher. It had become quite obvious, even to those not having seen Garry’s throw, how poorly 50 Cent’s performance had measured up to Garry’s highly-touted outing only a few days before. Even non-Mets and non-baseball fans saw replays of Tuesday’s farce and were all too anxious to acknowledge Garry’s far superior performance.
Comparing the two men’s first pitches later, Howie Rose would even marvel–off the air–to Garry, “Grading on a curve, you are Sandy Koufax.” High praise indeed.
50 Cent has continued to extract from this episode every ounce of media hype possible for himself. Recently, he provided an attention-getting explanation for his poor outing that night. He also lives in infamy in an hysterical video that has since been created in which Vladimir Guerrero is seen “hitting” that ill-thrown pitch. Ah, but thanks to 50 Cent’s PR machine, Garry has vicariously continued to enjoy minor celebrity status, exceeding even Andy Warhol‘s predictions.
Serendipity had provided Garry the chance to live out a dream.
Coincidence allowed him to keep the dream alive for many more days to come.
UPDATE: The infamous first pitch throw will live on into the 2014 baseball season as Topps has confirmed that it will be issuing a baseball card “honoring” the pitch:
Mets outfielder Matt den Dekker had time to kill on Sunday. He had been called up for his first major league start of the season the previous day from the Triple-A affiliate. He no sooner arrived to join the team in Philadelphia then he was told he’d be returning to the 51s. Reportedly unable to catch the game on TV in his hotel (what kind of fleabag hotel did the Mets put him up in in Philly, anyhow??!!) he went out to check out the Liberty Bell and Center City environs prior to his evening flight back to Vegas. Good thing for the Mets that his return trip was cancelled. Let’s just say, he made the most of his time in Philly…and I don’t even know if he was a contributor to the new cheese-steak-eating contest numbers.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so the saying goes. I know I personally am beside myself for the return of baseball to Citi Field. However, my wandering eyes have been smitten by, gulp, basketball.
I’ve written a blog post comparing the success of the Wichita State Shockers to a successful orchestra. You can read it here:
No, not “faith restored” in the Mets. Oh sure, I’m still a practicing Mets fan. On the surface, I believe. But, deep down…
Let’s face it: as a Mets fan in 2013, it’s slim pickings when it comes to finding something to get all hot and bothered about.
Sure, watching Matt Harvey pitch is a delight. But through no fault of his own, it’s been a long time since he’s recorded a win. Yes, the Subway Series was a very welcome and wholly unexpected surprise. It felt awfully nice to put on some Mets gear and walk around with a certain amount of swagger in one’s step, am I right? Was anyone surprised that the Mets’ euphoria coming off the sweep of the Yankees in both stadiums was not enough to get even a single, stinkin’ win in Miami? I, for one, was not.
But here I am–frustrated, angry, and bored with my team–typing away excitedly on a blog post after having remained basically mute for a good long while.
It’s not my team, however, that has propelled me to the keyboard, but it is something familiar to baseball fans: the practice of singing “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch.
The fact that this post-9/11 addition to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” has remained a staple well beyond 2011–at every Yankee home game and at many stadiums on Sundays–has bothered me.
Come to find out, it bothers others too. It bothered a Methodist pastor in the Washington, DC area so much that he wrote a letter that appeared in the Washington Post recently. What followed were over 3,000 comments online, including my own, and a virtual dialogue on a subject that, lo and behold, has a lot of other people–including Christians like myself–hot around the collar as well.
So, I submit as my return to the Mets blogosphere the following post on a topic which, unlike the Mets’ playing this season, has inspired and excited me and ultimately motivated me to write again.
These are my comments, as posted in the online Comments section that appears below the original opinion in its online version. Please do read the original opinion. It is beautifully written and makes some excellent points.
By the way, while I might not condone public songs with religious connotations (except in the context of a religious service, of course), far be it from me to discourage any Met fan from saying a prayer–in private–for this team if he or she is so inclined. Heaven knows–pun intended–they need it!
A new opera blog with a youthful perspective, courtesy of my daughter! Please check it out!
Originally posted on Ms.OperaGeek:
All good things have an ending, but all endings have a new beginning. This phrase has been hovering in my mind. My name is Melanie Spector, and I am a seven year veteran of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. I have been in eleven operas, cast nineteen different times, and have performed in 160 performances on the Met stage. These operas include Cavalleria Rusticana, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Carmen, La Gioconda, La Damnation de Faust, Turandot, Hansel and Gretel, Attila, La Bohème, Boris Godunov, and finally, Parsifal.
Parsifal is a special, sentimental opera to me. My father introduced me to Wagner’s music when I was only in kindergarten, and I have been in love with it since. When I was eight years old, he took me to see the dress rehearsal of it at the Met, with René Pape as Gurnemanz, Ben Heppner as Parsifal, Thomas Hampson as Amfortas, and…
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I was there.
I WAS THERE!
But, through the immediacy of social media, there were others not at Citi Field tonight who were there with me nonetheless.
Yes, I was one of the lucky Mets fans to experience live tonight–from the front row of the Excelsior Level, right behind Home Plate–the first no-hitter in the history of the Mets franchise, pitched by Johan Santana.
But, as the number of zeroes on the scoreboard began to climb, so did the anxiety and the trepidation. The angst was palpable: I saw it in my daughter’s and my husband’s faces; I saw it six seats down from me in the intense concentration on the face of WFAN’s Evan Roberts as well as in the death grip he held on the railing in front of him.
But I also “heard” it loud and clear in the voices fairly shouting on Twitter and Facebook.
I try to put my phone away during game-time, for the most part. I find that I miss too much of what’s going on in front of me if I don’t.
But with collective jitters permeating the atmosphere tonight, the distraction of my smart phone proved to be just the bit of short-term electronically-produced Xanax needed –at least while the Mets were at bat from about the sixth inning forward. (Did anyone else think that the bottom of the eighth inning set yet another franchise record for the LONGEST half-inning EVER?!)
Checking Twitter and Facebook late in the game when Johann was not on the mound, I was surprised to see a thread of comments inspired by a single tweet by fellow Mets blogger Greg Prince, of Faith and Fear in Flushing fame, in which he compared the spectacle we were all witnessing–in the ballpark, home, and elsewhere–to the grand spectacle that is opera.
I couldn’t have agreed more with the analogy. Truly, this evening’s event–with the pitcher in question having taken well over an entire season off for possibly career-ending surgery–was a story writ large. A gran scena.
For stellar moments in sports history as well as those in the arena of musical performance, the crowd simply cannot contain itself. “Jo- han! Jo- han!” or “Bravi! Bravi!”: the intensity and the passion are one and the same. And the thrill of having shared that athlete’s/musician’s professional milestone is something to cherish and to be retold–in the dramatic and theatrical manner appropriate to the occasion.
“I’ve always been interested in professional athletes like yourself who draw inspiration from the arts,” I began haltingly.
Hardly believing that I had been given the opportunity to personally address R. A. Dickey, I nervously continued, telling him that one of the highlights of my own professional career at the Metropolitan Opera was to have played a performance at which former First Baseman John Olerud and his wife were in attendance. After making note of his obvious respect and reverence for the classics of literature, I asked R.A. if there are other art forms or disciplines that hold his interest.
It was an AP course in Applied Art, with charcoal as his medium, which spurred his continuing interest in the visual arts, he answered. While on road trips, he said, he is now attuned to local cultural offerings and often frequents art museums around his work schedule. He also stated that he likes many genres of music. “Good question,” he said in conclusion.
In a rather unusual promotion, the Mets had organized a “Q & A” with pitcher R.A. Dickey in conjunction with the recent release of his autobiography.
The event, which took place yesterday in the Press Room at Citi Field, offered each participant a chance to pose a question to the famed knuckleballer, an autographed copy of Dickey’s book, an all-you-can-eat buffet in the Champions Club, and a ticket to the game. (The game, by the way, turned out to be a lot more than one of the incidentals of the package: my family and I made the acquaintance of distinguished blogger Greg Prince and were the recipients of an autographed copy of his own book, Faith and Fear in Flushing, as well as his delightful companionship for the game itself.) Although the media were present, the ground rules had been stated at the beginning: this was an event for the fans; it was our questions that would be addressed. Dickey even expressed his personal gratitude for us showing an interest in him and his book before even opening up the floor to questions.
Having had that clarified at the outset and knowing that this event was centered around Dickey’s literary prowess, I suppose I should not have been surprised at how many of the questions that were posed from some of the one hundred or so gathered in the small room were, like my own, of a personal nature. And maybe–having met R.A. previously at a “Meet and Greet” with players in the Caesar’s Club last season and having heard him speak in post-game interviews–I equally should not have been surprised at how candidly and unswervingly Dickey responded to personal questions.
Regardless, I was surprised, particularly with Dickey’s forthrightness.
The more I heard the man speak, the more incredulous I became. I wondered: how could the Mets have managed to acquire such a find?!
What the Mets have in R.A. Dickey is, first and foremost, a first-class gentleman. He is also a self-effacing, humble man, a stellar scholar and philosopher, published author, dedicated philanthropist…and, oh yeah, a player just named National League Player of the week and the starter currently possessing the best record in the rotation. And yet, with yesterday’s questions and answers pertaining to matters such as Medieval literature, psychological counseling, the psychological effects of severed or strained family relationships, and the profound effect that Ernest Hemingway’s imagery of Mt. Kilmanjaro had upon him as a seventh-grader, it was the direct questions about baseball itself that actually were disconcerting to me.
It was not that questions regarding the mechanics of his specialty pitch or about his personal knuckleball mentors or the size one’s hand needs to be to successfully throw a knuckleball were inappropriate. Nor was R.A. hesitant in any way to fully address these questions. It was rather that, with the line of discussion primarily centering around more universal themes, general life experiences, and personal philosophies, I found myself forgetting that the person at the front of the room was someone whom I first came to admire for his athleticism.
I found myself thinking, “Oh. Right. This guy pitches for us!”
One of the last run of performances that I had the pleasure of playing this season at the MET was of the opera Billy Budd, composed by Benjamin Britten, with a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier. It is based upon the novella by Herman Melville. Faithful to the novel, Britten’s Budd is a new recruit whose optimism and naiveté are a welcome palliative to the dreary life aboard the SS Indomitable experienced by his fellow sailors. While those same qualities–or his response to them–eventually prove threatening to the Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, his response upon meeting the newest seaman pressed into service shows his discernment of Billy’s unique personal attributes:
A find in a thousand…
A beauty, A jewel.
The pearl of great price.
There are no more like him! I’ve seen many men, many years have I given to the King, sailed many seas.
He is a king’s bargain.
From the world that is professional baseball in America today, a culture where prospects are often scouted before even finishing high school, much less completing a college degree, comes this man of Letters–not just those on the back of his uniform.
Tired from a day of travel and lost in thoughts of the wonderful vacation in San Francisco from which I was returning, I had a real awakening on Monday afternoon while on the mini-bus from the Jet Blue Terminal at JFK to the off-site parking facility where my family and I had parked our car before our trip.
My family were the only passengers on the mini bus until a family of four–a young couple with two children under eight or so–boarded when the bus made an additional stop. I don’t remember how the conversation got started…maybe it was the Mets shirt my husband was wearing. Anyway, they were informed that we had just returned from San Francisco where we had seen the Mets play three game and, I told them, it had been MUCH cooler. I remarked how hot and humid it was in New York, but how it was supposed to be even hotter for the Home Run Derby in Phoenix that night and the All-Star Game the following evening.
We then learned that the family had just returned from an enjoyable vacation in Barbados–during the husband/father’s two-week leave from Afghanistan.
As we all exited the bus, I thought back on my part of the conversation and felt embarrassed that I had been complaining at all about the heat of Phoenix, much less New York. As we all stood beside the mini-bus waiting to collect our bags, I asked the gentleman, “Is it really hot in Afghanistan?” He told me that he had seen temperatures of 130 degrees, but that what made it even worse was that the equipment he has to wear traps body heat and adds to the temperature (not to mention the weight.)
Ashamed of having previously alluded to any discomfort because of the change in climate, I told the young gentleman, “You all are the TRUE All-Stars and real heroes. Thank you for all you are doing.”
Our family wished theirs a safe trip home, and we added that we hoped that the young soldier might be coming home permanently from Afghanistan very soon.
It was a sobering moment. The stressors awaiting each of the members of my family upon our return from a leisurely vacation now seemed so trivial, so inconsequential. Any sadness or regret we had about returning to our regular routines was quickly displaced by the realization of the inevitable sadness and anxiety that that young wife and her children would be experiencing all too soon as they said goodbye–again–to this soldier.
I’ve always been glad that the Mets honor a veteran at every home game as part of the “Welcome Back, Veterans” program. And I always applaud the day’s soldier as he or she is recognized in the third inning of the game. But since this chance encounter, I have applauded more loudly and with even more appreciation and gratitude for each soldier’s sacrifices.
Coincidentally, my “warmer welcomes” this past weekend coincided with the appearance at Citi Field of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Leroy Petry. On Tuesday, Petry became the second living active-duty service member to receive a Medal of Honor for actions in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. Petry earned the prestigious award and a lunch date with President Obama for his courageous actions in Afghanistan on May 26, 2008.
The details of Petry’s heroism have been detailed everywhere, including this quote from a story on MLB.com:
Though shot in both legs during a mission, Petry managed to make his way to an enemy hand grenade and throw it away from himself and two fellow Rangers. Though he managed to save his peers, Petry had to have his right hand amputated afterward and now uses a prosthetic.