Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Perfect Respite from Ordinary Life

This post is the first in a series that shall encompass my sojourn in New York City that took place between February 16-21, 2011. To be quite honest, it proved to be even more enjoyable and surreal than I could have ever imagined, and I learned an immense amount of things about myself and who I aspire to become. My gratitude to Jay Prock is without end for accompanying me on this vacation.

Having been devoted to opera in varying degrees for the past six years, I had naturally developed a great longing to visit the Metropolitan Opera in all of its splendor where it is situated in Lincoln Center Plaza. After a few years ago, I vowed that I would never visit New York City during a time in which the Met was dark, and I waited most patiently for an opportunity to present itself to afford me such a pleasure. As the years progressed, I began to think that I should never get my chance to see the Metropolitan Opera at all, but SarahB never let me accept that as an answer. Finally, there came a time about a year since when I thought a pilgrimage to that shrine of hallowed opera might be feasible. As I began to think about how this all might be executed, I called in a favor from a dear friend of mine, who is none other than the esteemed Jay Prock, and asked him to accompany me there. He is ever searching for an excuse to return to this city where he once made his residence, and it does not have to be a good one to make him go there. At the risk of releasing my dramatic effect from this tale, it is actually the case that Jay told me that I could not go there upon my first time without him, for he wanted to see my face when I arrived at Lincoln Center, and he received his wish, but I proceed before it is appropriate.

There were quite a few factors that were considered as I scheduled a time for our vacation. Jay wanted to remain there for a considerable amount of time so that we could have enough time to experience the city in various capacities. We knew from that piece of criteria that we would stay there for almost a week, and it was left to me to decide a possible block of time to visit to coordinate with a production at the Met. I had naturally elected that I should most wish to see Renee Fleming perform there first, so I proposed dates that would accommodate her run in either Armida or Richard Strauss's Capriccio. The latter proved to be out of the question for us for the problem that it conflicted with the production schedule of another production at the community theatre for which I am employed, and the first week I recommended for Armida could not be accepted for much the same reason. Therefore, we settled for the dates I have previously mentioned.

We booked our tickets some time in advance, and I put the thought of it out of my mind for a good while. The time passed, and it came to the day that was a week away from our date of departure, which was when I began to become enthusiastically excited about the next week's prospects. At that stage of the proceedings, I knew we had tickets to Armida and The Importance of Being Earnest at the American Airlines Theatre, but the rest of my stay there was completely free to living in the city in whatever fashion we might contrive. I was quite content with this arrangement, but my journey and stay in New York City proved to be so much more enjoyable than I expected it to be with all of the additional things that occurred there that I was afforded the opportunity of witnessing.

The inception of our journey required us to wake at four o'clock in the morning to catch our flight out of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Memphis, Tennessee, which was our first stop on the trip. This was my first time to utilize transportation by means of an airplane, so I was naturally nervous, for I did not know what to expect. However, I found that flying does not bother me in the least inconvenient manner, but the security measures are most incommodious to us. With my belt, watch, iPod, and shoes removed from my person, and my laptop taken from its case, I walked through the scanner, and it took me a fair amount of time to clothe myself and replace my items again. Reviewing the event in my mind, it seems it would be more efficient if people would merely arrive at the airport ready to shower and let the TSA agents watch you attire yourself. Then, they could still check your bags while you were occuppied with preparing for the day.

We finally boarded the airplane, and we were on our way. After a relatively brief stop in Memphis, Tennessee, it finally became real to me that I was actually going to live in New York City for almost a week. I was intrigued at flying over the clouds. I have never seen clouds from such a perspective. To anyone who has never flown to travel anywhere, it is, indeed, a beautiful sight to behold. It reminded me of a rolling sea, but the sea that it depicted was a calm one. It did not seem a teribly long time to get there, but in reality we were flying for nearly eight hours. I was far too ecstatic to sleep on the flight, so I listened to music on my iPod while I looked out of the window at many peaceful images of the earth below us, and I edited a devotional document for Jay. That was my first experience with the iPad, and I have determined that I do not like tablet devices in general. The only device of its class that I would consider would be the ASUS Eee Slate, for it is more of a computer than merely a tablet.

Just when I thought the flight was seeming rather long, and that we must surely be over Pennsylvania by that time, I learned that we were flying over New York, and I saw the Statue of Liberty from the air shortly thereafter. I knew that I had embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime at that moment.

A friend of Jay's retrived us from LaGuardia airport, and we were treated to an afternoon of amiable conversation in their apartment in Harlem. Their building was nice, but it was, as most buildings in the city later proved to appear, old. This, of course, also meant that it was filled with character, but one could tell that it had known better years. If I were a better student of the history of this revered and entertaining city, I might know more about the transformation of some of these apartment buildings. I may be gravely mistaken, but this particular one appears to have been a grand place at one time, for the floor in the foyer is covered in marble, and their is a marble fireplace in the wall. That suggests to me that this entrance was once a room of some kind that entertained visitors in a more auspicious manner than to see them onto the elevator or up the stairs to their floor.

Their apartment is a considerable size, but it was cramped for my taste. We waited and talked until the children arrived from school. After we made our presence known to them, we visited for a brief while, and we left to visit Times Square and see the spectacle that is kept in that most famous district. It should here be mentioned that our itenerary called for us to reside in two places over the duration of our stay. First, we took lodgings in Astoria with Jay's brother and sister-in-law for two days, and we remained with our family of friends who had been so kind to remove us from the airport for the remainder of our vacation there.

We went to that central tourist location, and, in order for us to arrive there, we were required to take the subway. Oklahoma City's method of public transportation would lie either in the bus or a taxi cab, and such conveniences are almost nonexistent here because of such little demand for them in comparison to that teeming metropolis. After some difficulty in mastering the art of swiping the Metro card, I made my way onto the train, and gripped the pole with white knuckles. The jolt at the onset was still foreign to me, but I stayed standing.

As we emerged from our exit, I was awed by the sight. I had seen Times Square on television and in pictures, but those images did not compare to actually being there. It was rather strange of me, but I never felt out of place there, nor was I scared of becoming lost or separated from Jay, who was leading this excursion for the present. After we ambled about aimlessly for some time so that I could see those famous sights in the square, which to my surprise was a group of blocks rather than merely a square, we located the building in which one of Jay's relatives worked so that we could leave our bags with them and explore with more freedom than that which our luggage allowed. His sister-in-law worked in an office complex that was in one of the adjoining thoroughfares to Times Square, and it was most conveninet for us to find.

After we wandered for a while, the question was put to me as to how I should like to spend my first evening in this new and exciting place, and I did not quite know how to respond. Could it be that I was given a choice to freely spend an evening in this place that had inhabited my dreams in any way that I wished? I had little to consider, for I knew that I wanted to see opera performed at the Met most of all, and this had been my precise reason for visiting. I knew that Iphigenie en Tauride, starring Susan Graham, Placido Domingo, and Paul Groves, was being performed that evening, so I asked if that might be agreeable to everyone, and Jay said that such an arrangement would be fine. We met with Jay's sister-in-law again after she was finished working for the day, and we made our way to Lincoln Center with the aid of the subway.

We emerged from our exit, and we were right outside the limits of Lincoln Center. As we walked down the block, we saw all of the posters for the new productions and engagements for the group of performance companies that inhabit Lincoln Center Plaza, and we were walking right past Juilliard! When we rounded the corner of that building, I stopped and just gazed in astonishment. I was standing in front of the world's greatest opera house, and I just wanted to look at it from that distance. It was close enough to be real, but it was removed from me enough to still be picturesque. I could not say anything, but I was overjoyed. I had called the box office earlier that afternoon, and I even knew their number without having to search for it, so I knew that tickets for the evening's performance were still available. We went to the box office, and I asked for a Family Circle seat, but I was met with the pleasant fact that some of Agnes Varis's Rush Tickets yet remained, so I upgraded my point of vantage for less of a cost. We went to the Opera Shop from there, which I thought lacked a little from the expectations I had made in my mind for it, but I was delighted to find their selection of recordings to be very thorough for any aficionado of opera to peruse. Placido Domingo selesctions were playing in the store, and I had a look about the place to think about something to buy on my next visit. Having some time before the performance was to begin, and since I had not yet eaten dinner, my companions and I walked in the vicinity to locate a restaurant that would lend itself to the healthy balance of delectable food and a reasonable price, and, after traveling a few blocks, we found a small eatery on a corner that met both criteria, but I unfortunately cannot recall the name of it, nor could I locate it on Google Maps. My meal which consisted of a hamburger and French fries with pink lemonade for the accompanying beverage, and it only cost twelve dollars and ninety-five cents, which is comparable to prices in my native city.

After my dinner, which was most pleasant, I walked back to the Met alone, for my friends had left me once I had been seated in the restaurant, and I entered and once again soaked in the ambient elegance of the inside of the building. I made my way to the orchestra section, and I was greeted by a kind usher who directed me to my seat, and I entered the auditorium. This storied venue was every bit of palacial in its decoration and the accommodations that it provides for its audiences, and I soon became lost in glancing at every minute detail of the hall.The orchestra section was relatively full, and I had arrived about half an hour prior to the curtain, so I devoted myself to reading my Playbill for the evening's performance. While I was thus engaged, I began to hear murmurs from audience members in close proximity, and they were whispering that Susan Graham was not going to perform this evening. I looked in my program for some insert that would inform me of this and the name of her replacement, but I did not find one. These rumors did prove to be correct, however, for a man came on the stage to announce that Graham had canceled her appearance that evening due to not feeling well, and he also said that Mr. Domingo was not feeling his best that evening either, at which half of the patrons voiced an audible sigh of disappointment, and I was sure that we should lose half of our company in the audience, but, after the sigh and what must have been the rush of at least 1,500 people standing in their rows, the announcer informed us that Domingo would yet perform, and they all resumed their seats.

Patrick Summers entered the orchestra pit, and we all clapped modestly. Summers does not exactly maintain the best of control over an orchestra, and this night would not prove to be anything spectacular in his career, but the overture came and set the mood, and the curtain rose on a scene that looked appreciably like a scene from the days of Ancient Greece. The costumes appeared rather generic to me, but my eye is one of the amateur, so I am not qualified to say. Though I would not learn it until later in the performance, the role of Iphigenie was portrayed by Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop's interpretation was well done musically, but the character was wanting considerably in its display.

This story happens without any changes in the set at all. There are but two rooms on the stage, one of which is the great hall, and the other is the dungeon. It seemed sometimes as if the performers moved between them as one might the living room and the kitchen, but this is not the most simple piece to stage.The few effects were done well, and the singing was excellent. If you did not previously know the story, I can imagine that it would be difficult to follow, but the Met Titles revealed enough of the action. Domingo sang well, and I could not discern that he was ill in any way. I was overjoyed that my first performance to see at the Metropolitan Opera had starred Placido Domingo. There are obvious signs of wear in his voice, but the sheer fact that he is still singing so well is phenomenal to me. Paul Groves was in resplendent voice as well, and one could assuredly feel the generations of tenor on the stage. Overall, the production was an excellent maiden experience for me, and the only other thing for which I could have hoped was for Susan Graham to have performed that evening.

The opera ended at about 10:40 P.M., and I stood outside in the Licoln Center Plaza, and I turned to view the facade of the Met. There was a banner hanging in the window for the new production of Rossini's Le Comte Ory, and I suddenly knew that I was here. I had just been afforded an opportunity that would change my life. This is where I want to be. It is my desire to have the chance to sing on that stage, and I have now been thoroughly introduced to that piece of life. I waited for my friends to come retrieve me, and, as we rode the subway to return to their apartment, life instantly seemed magical and surreal.

Those were the events of my first day in New York City, and I hope that I have not bored all of you in the telling of this tale. Indeed, there shall be a continuation of it soon, but let this first chapter of the chronicle sufficiently whet your curiosity to learn of the most entertaining vacation I had while in this famous locale. I thank all of you for reading, and I pray that God blesses all of you amply.