Classier Audience Than I Deserve

I look forward to some public appearances more than others. Tonight was a ‘look forward to’ event. I was asked to introduce an operatic performance on the New Haven Green.

Scratch the Green. Too chilly. The New Haven Symphony Orchestra doesn’t perform outside when the temperature drops below 65&#186. Can you blame them?

Unfortunately, that shrinks the house somewhat.

This was to be part of New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Though some ‘big’ commercial acts play, it is mostly smaller performances across many genres.

A crowd of thousands sees these opera performances on the Green. Tonight, we were moved inside to Yale’s University Theater – one of many performance spots on the Yale University campus. The theater sits a little over 600.

With my leg still sitting inside the Velcro fastened boot, I asked for special parking dispensation. The organizers of the event had no pull, but the Yale Police (yes, they have their own police department – guns and everything) was extremely helpful. A motorcycle officer blocked off a space right alongside the theater with a wooden sawhorse.

An opera crowd is quite eclectic. They are likely to know what they’re getting into. I sense there are few casual opera fans and many rabid ones.

By the time I arrived, a line had already formed, stretching down York Street toward Broadway. This part of New Haven, surrounded by the Yale campus is really beautiful. The buildings are very stately… very Yale.

As the crowd stood, a group of street performers from the Meter Theater began to put on a show. I was too busy taking pictures to really follow what was going on, but the crowd got into it.

Finally the doors opened and the crowd moved in. I headed backstage, standing with (but having no contact with) tonight’s performers. I knew who they were by the tiny stage mics which curled from their ears.

On stage the New Haven Symphony was tuning up. This is quite an accomplished orchestra and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching them get limber by playing exercises and running scales.

A live performance of classical music is so powerful, even someone who is not a fan will still enjoy. I can’t explain it, except to say it can be unexpectedly overpowering.

The curtain was scheduled for 8:00 PM, but as is often the case, it was held for 8:05. I walked to the front of the stage, crossed the apron and walked down a few stairs to the narrator’s microphone. There was a polite smattering of applause.

I welcomed them to Opera on the Green and then looked around at the surroundings. “Damn weatherman,” I said. Nice laugh.

I read a little from the prepared script I’d be given and then looked up for some remarks of my own. I don’t have my exact words, so let me paraphrase.

“I’m thrilled to be with you tonight, but I am a little embarrassed. I mean, it’s wonderful to see this great opera… but I accepted this thinking I was introducing Oprah.” Big laugh.

That little joke had been a bone of contention in the Fox house and at work where my friends and family were sure it would bomb. I told it anyway. I’m glad I did.

I did the rest of the intro for the performance. Most of it had been written by others, but I threw in a little mention of Milton Cross, who used to host the Texaco Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, and who I knew this crowd would relate to. I also added some historical context to the actual operetta to be performed, “Orpheus in the Underworld,” which was originally panned by the critics back in 1858.

As I walked toward the back of the house, the actual narrator took his place and the orchestra began to play. Though the opera was written by Offenbach, a German by birth, it was written in French and first performed in Paris.

As the singers, all Yale students, performed, an English translation flashed on a huge screen behind the orchestra.

I’m not going to claim to be an opera fan. But, what I saw tonight was very entertaining, especially an amazing young soprano singing the part of Eurydice. I have searched everywhere, but cannot find her name nor the names of anyone in the cast!

With two more newscasts to go, I had to leave while the performance was underway. I was sorry to go… even if Oprah wasn’t there.

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