The lights go down. The curtain goes up. Mom and I nestle into our cushy reclining loungers. The orchestra launches into the rousing, slightly ominous prelude of “Madame Butterfly.” We sigh with contentment and anticipation.
Giacomo Puccini’s beloved score swells and soars and sweeps us through three hours of cherry blossoms and tragedy in 1940s Japan. Discreet screen subtitles translate the Italian libretto, but we barely notice. This opera is an old friend. We tear up (spoiler alert) at Butterfly’s heartbreaking demise and tumble out into the daylight emotionally spent.
Saturdays at the opera are one of our favorite mother-daughter diversions.
Since 2006, New York’s Metropolitan Opera has delivered live performances into movie theaters around the world. New technology smoothed the expansion of its eighty-year radio broadcast tradition to the big screen. For faraway fans like mom and me, viewing the Met: Live in HD at a neighborhood theater is more than a consolation prize for being a continent away from Lincoln Center—it’s front-row access to exceptional art. And it comes with popcorn.
Neither mom nor I had much opera history. Such cultural performances were rare in the small midwestern town where I grew up. When I moved to Manhattan after college, my Metropolitan Opera House experience was singular, viewing “Carmen” from the last row of the upper balcony sans opera glasses. But thanks to the PBS, we both acquired an appreciation for the powerful voices, extravagant staging, and often-fraught tales that have captivated international audiences for centuries.
We moved to Portland nearly eight years ago. Since then, one Saturday a month during the opera season finds mom and me in our favorite movie theater. We’ve been enchanted by “The Magic Flute,” heartbroken by “La Bohème,” and delighted by “The Merry Widow.” We’ve been wowed by staging from sumptuous to spartan. And we’ve been dazzled by the voices of Renee Fleming, Joyce DiDonato, Matthew Polenzani, and Roberto Alagna.
Because the Met: Live in HD broadcasts are produced with at least ten cameras, we’re treated to multiple perspectives. Long shots, close-ups, high angles, tracking shots. When Butterfly delivers her poignant aria in the second act, the camera shares the profound longing on her face as she imagines the return of her absent lover. Video technology enhances musical theater, and we are the lucky beneficiaries.
During intermission, New Yorkers sip champagne in the soaring Met lobby beneath sparkly crystal chandeliers. Meanwhile, mom and I are virtually backstage, watching the crew in action. The Met boasts one of the world’s most technologically advanced stages, replete with hydraulic elevators, motorized platforms, and intricate rigging systems. The stage set for the upcoming act, we eavesdrop as the host—usually an off-duty opera star—chats with some of the performers. After the conductor returns to the orchestra pit, we ease back into musical fantasy with Dolby Digital surround sound.
Others in our family view opera as torture. Which is fine with me. I get to make more one-on-one memories with mom. And eat popcorn.