Opera query finds an Albert Lean in Big Apple

Published 7:58 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I’m married to an opera lover. My husband often spends Saturday afternoons December through May humming while listening to opera. It’s live via radio, from Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. He tells me he recalls the first time he actually saw a live opera. After teaching a year in Oregon, he spent a summer living in San Francisco. He was able to attend “La Traviata” opera outdoors in Stern Grove park area.

He also thoroughly enjoys German polka music, which makes sense, as he taught German for many years. I’ve thought it an interestingly strange combination of music preferences. I like the German music also, as I taught German in one of my earlier lives. After grooming me to appreciate Italian lyrical operas, he encouraged me to attend operas live, which we’ve done for a number of years both in Minneapolis and St. Paul. My most cherished opera experience occurred over a decade ago, when we traveled to Italy for an opera tour, which included La Scala opera house in Milan.

In 2007 my husband learned that the Met Opera transmits live performances in high definition video to a movie theatre in Mankato River Hills Mall. I am appreciative for a couple of reasons. Tickets cost only $20 for ”Live in HD” and travel distance decreases by half. At “real” operas, I’d always forget our binoculars and found it difficult to see from our almost affordable seats in the lofty second balcony. Best of all, I don’t have to dress up and can even eat popcorn during the opera. Just recently, I figured out, because I learn best visually, I don’t much enjoy only hearing operas. I also find that English subtitles, now provided at both screen and live opera, increase my interest.

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However, after my first visit to the movie theatre in Mankato, I discovered my favorite part of this kind of production. The Met takes us backstage during intermissions of the live opera in New York. Often right after an exhausting act, the host engages in an in-depth discussion with the leading singers or shares inside secrets of scene or costume changes with on-site visits.

I am also drawn by the idea that at the moment I sit in my seat in Minnesota, all over North America and Europe more than 100,000 people are learning, like me, to develop a taste for opera, just about like one might learn a language.

Last year, after attending several operas on a monthly basis, we invited music lover friends to join our excursions. Before performances, we’d eat at the food court, while people and merry-go-round watching. Afterward, we’d wander around bookstores. When we tell others about our opera treks, they’re curious, but wonder how come they’ve never heard about this kind of opera. We usually suggest they visit Met’s Web site metopera.org/HDlive to sign up for e-mail updates or to check Encore recorded opera versions shown evenings at movie theatres. The next opera is “Simon Boccanegra,” starring Placido Domingo on Saturday.

Recently I decided to actually phone the Met to see how they publicize to non-members. I first got an automated phone line, then I called customer services. After 10 minutes of phone referral, I got cut off.

Next, I used the Met’s administrative phone number and got referred to several more offices. When I was about ready to give up, my final referral led to precisely the person I needed, the Met’s press representative. I thought I heard him say his name as Brent Ness.

Not long ago, for the first time in over a year, I talked with Eileen Ness, music director of Albert Lea’s United Methodist Church and Cantori. What remote chance could there be for a family connection, I thought? I politely asked if he’d ever been to Albert Lea, Minnesota.

Yes, he was rather familiar with our community. My drama level increased to operatic proportions with this astounding information. Of course, he had a mother named Eileen. I then had to tell him about Albert Lea and the Blue Zones project and almost forgot about my opera questions.

Most amazing to me from this connection is that he was precisely the person in charge of publicity of “The Met: Live in HD.” He sent me all the information I needed within minutes. During that time I phoned his mother about my becoming a volunteer for local opera promotion. Her son would be my key contact. If I’d connected all the telltale music lover dots when I heard Brent perform this summer at United Methodist, I wouldn’t have needed to phone travel to New York to let local opera fans know about opera options. If you’d like to know more about opera season choices, get Googling or contact me at 373-8757 or aeikensara@hotmail.com. I’m excited.

Sara Aeikens is an Albert Lea resident.