For this year’s Divine Comedy-themed art and photography extra, most of the contributors chose Inferno. It’s not surprising, considering the hellish couple of years we’ve had.
Not represented in this special section, however, are the performing arts. For anyone who loves music and drama, the pandemic has been its own kind of Dantean punishment.
Music is a communal activity. It requires an audience. During a time when gathering is potentially dangerous, musicians have had to come up with creative solutions. Watching and listening, I’ve been amazed at how much passion and humanity can come through a screen. Even so, there’s nothing quite like live performance.
So, when the Metropolitan Opera reopened at the end of September, I jumped at the opportunity to go. I drove down to New York City, timing my trips to be able to attend productions that would later be simulcast at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, so that I could write about them for opera lovers here.
I grew up going to Met simulcasts. As a kid, unaware of the supposed difference between “high” and “low” art, I thought they were just movies. Maybe that’s the way it should be.
In October, the production was Terence Blanchard’s Shut Up in My Bones — a historic occasion, being the first opera at the Met by a Black composer. In late November, the Met premiered Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice. That opera is, by the way, about going to hell and back.
Both times, after what felt like airport security, I found my itchy red velvet seat high up in the family circle. When the chandeliers ascended, the room was quiet just for a moment. Then, applause as conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin gestured to the members of the orchestra, many of whom had been out of work for 18 months.
In the dark, I took notes blindly, ink smearing my hand. The strangers next to me probably wondered why I was writing so furiously.
I noticed things I never had before: The way the dancers stood at the periphery of the stage as they waited for a cue. The way the cello soloist sounded so far away, yet the phrasing was so clear. The way members of the chorus stayed in character even when they weren’t singing. It all felt louder, brighter, more colorful than I remembered.
I wondered if the people back home would see and hear these things. On the Cape, people care so much about opera that they pile into WHAT to watch it on a screen. How do I convey the feeling of being at the Met to them? How the air buzzes, as if with electricity?
When Orpheus arrives at the gates of hell in act three of Eurydice, he must leave his music behind. It is a heartbreaking moment. The unpleasant truth is that we don’t know when live performance will again be snatched away from us. But now, I don’t take any of it for granted.