Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hearing Air(s) at the Opera

Last night's Metropolitan Opera performance of that lovely old chestnut, Donizetti's wonderful Lucia di Lammermoor, was a revelation. I thought I'd heard enough performances of Mad Lucy by most of the major interpreters of the 20th century to last the rest of my life, but I was wrong. The incredibly talented young German soprano Diana Damrau had absolutely everything in the role: vocal beauty and accuracy spiced with expressive variety, theater-worthy acting ability, grace, and personal charisma. She was ably seconded by the fine Polish tenor Piotr Beczala who, unlike most Edgardos, received almost equal kudos after the Tomb Scene. And people stayed around after the Mad Scene to hear him, too! We were given a bonus view of Lucia herself, as, in Mary Zimmerman's extremely creative Victorian-style production, her ghost appears to embrace the dying Edgardo. Bravi tutti!

An otherwise nearly perfect evening at the opera (where everything is almost as beautiful as at the ballet) poses a question worthy of Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" column in the Sunday New York Times Magazine: What do you do about an elderly gentleman sitting behind you who is apparently wearing some kind of breathing apparatus (not visible) that makes a steady hissing on-and-off sound during the entire evening? You can't ask the old guy to stop breathing, can you? Does such a person have the right to attend the theater at all and disturb others as much as does the ringing of cellphones or the whistling of improperly adjusted hearing aids? At least those can finally be silenced (after much effort on the part of audience members and theater staff). Well, my solution, and the solution of a neighboring couple, was to find other seats. I had to wait until after (hiss, hiss) Act I, although they, sitting on an aisle, were able to do so directly after the prelude. Lucky that there were a few empty seats (your loss, absentees!), perhaps because it was Yom Kippur eve. Some years ago a Carnegie Hall lieder recital by the great Belgian bass-baritone José Van Dam was marred by someone's whistling hearing aid. And there was no way to tell where the noise was coming from; there was no escape. I was more fortunate last evening.

I feel sorry for the poor breather and suppose he should be allowed out at public events, but maybe not at straight plays or classical music performances. What is to be done? With the advent of podcasts, DVDs, and DVRs, perhaps he can find it in his heart to stay at home. I wonder what Randy would say? But I'm not going to ask him, because his answer would probably be the same as mine.

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