The Metropolitan Opera in the Pines
I went to the opera on Saturday afternoon. The Met. Verdi’s Aida. Around noon, I put on a pair of slacks and a sweater, gave the dogs a cookie and left the house. I turned left out of my driveway, headed down a paved road which soon turned to dirt. I was on my way. Rain was pelting the windshield. Along the roadside were trees, a pond, and more trees. Shortly, I turned down another dirt road, hardly marked. I had arrived at my destination: Peterborough Players, an old summer theater in the middle of tall pines. During the summer, venerable productions take place here in an old barn that once housed farm animals. Many years ago, the first production of Our Town was staged here, with Thornton Wilder in the audience. The play, after all, was based on the town of Peterborough, which hasn’t changed so very much.
Patrons hustled under umbrellas toward the barn. Big timbers hold up the roof under which plush seats have recently been added. It’s not rustic anymore but, on the other hand, it’s certainly not the Met. But this is where the “Live HD simulcast” of Aida was going to take place. I understand there are many other places in this country where these broadcasts are being made available. None quite so unique as this one. Just a guess.
Inside, the old wooden stage was filled with a gigantic screen. There was hardly an empty seat in the house. I saw many friends and neighbors among us. We gazed up at the giant screen before us. The see-sawing sound of the instruments tuning seemed right here, right now. The camera was panning the New York audience as they were settling in to perhaps the most gilded opera venue in the United States. Gold ornamentation glittered everywhere. The camera zeroed in on brightly dressed children as well as adults, all excitedly waiting for the maestro to take his place in the pit. No camera panned our midst — we were not elegant — but we were just as excited, literally flies on the wall of a far-away event. The maestro entered and with a stroke of his baton, the first soft notes of the violins emerged. And then, enormous curtains parted and the magnificent show began. I knew the music. I did not know the story, a slave who was once a princess, captured from a rival empire, falls in love with the commanding officer of the hostile Egyptian army. He is also secretly in love with her, though it is intended that he should marry the daughter of the king. A love triangle ensues.
Larger than life, we could see every hair on the performers’ heads; we could see the sweat that ran down their cheeks, every stitch in their magnificent and brightly colored costumes. As they sang, their enormous, rich voices filling the barn, we could still hear the din of rain pounding the metal roof above us. The general and the princess and the slave wandered helplessly in their passions while armies decamped. Battles raged and scenes of passion took place beside the Nile. Victory marches, complete with a parade of the spoils of war and wagons of captured soldiers, rolled across the stage. Seeing no exit from their prison of passion, the general and the slave went to their tomb together, singing their anguished duet. The great curtains closed. We applauded, as we had for each act, applause which never reached the ears of the deserving performers but what else was there to do? We rose and reluctantly left our seats, following each other back out to the parking lot, popping our umbrellas as we met the rain.
That night, the rain increased. Wind lashed my house. Branches fell. The sound of the wind rose to a roar, like a big brass instrument moving up and down a low scale. It sounded like a conquering army was coming over the mountain. Shutters flapped. Branches fell on the roof. The lights flickered several times. I turned on the outside lights. Leaves and debris were flying past the window at a high rate of speed. I feared a tornado, set my flashlight out beside me, made sure my cell phone was charged. I imagined the great tenor, dressed in full battle regalia, flinging himself into a passionate lament of the storm’s power. I could almost hear the words in the voice of the wind, which cried and screamed. My startled dogs barked, little, short tentative barks. Counterpoints. When the power failed, we all went to bed, the wind still knocking to come in.
In the morning, the air was still. The sun rose over a wind-combed earth. Everything, the grasses, the branches, even the apples from the tree were laid down. I went out and gathered apples into canvas bags, brought the windfall into the kitchen, cut the deep red fruits into quarters and set them into the big stew pot. The pink-edged pieces slowly surrendered to the low flame: applesauce, the spoils of a tumultuous, well-armored night.