Since traffic has been light on the list, I'll squander my second post for the
day with some thoughts about the now-defunct Met spring tour. There's always
something about this post-season time of year that awakens my nostalgia for
those wonderfully slapdash performances, frequently housed in some barn-like
structure totally unsuited to opera.
The Met made infrequent visits to my native New Orleans. One of my strongest
regrets is having missed the Met's final journey to the Big Easy. The year
was 1972 and four operas were slated for the New Orleans portion of the tour.
All performances took place in the Municipal Auditorium, the venue of choice
for circuses and hockey games. The schedule was as follows:
May 18--Otello--Nagy, Amara, Milnes, Di Giuseppe;Molinari-Pradelli.
May 19--Faust--Domingo, Zylis-Gara, Raimondi, Cossa, Von Stade;Rich.
May 20 (matinee)--La Traviata--Moffo, Bonisolli, Merrill;Bonynge.
May 20 (evening)--La Fille du Regiment--Sutherland, Pavarotti, Sinclair,
I was only 9 years old at the time. However, I started to attend performances
at the New Orleans Opera with my parents only one year later, so I still
berate them for not having the foresight to drag me off to the Met tour:)
My parents made amends when I was much older by driving me to Memphis for the
Met's annual visit there. That city's Municipal Auditorium was about as
inappropriate a showcase for opera as its New Orleans counterpart. And the
local audience wasn't going to win any awards for sophisticated behavior.
Many of the women in attendance looked like they were due to participate in a
Minnie Pearl Look-Alike Contest!
I remember a 1980 performance of Ballo in Maschera with Luciano Pavarotti and
Gilda Cruz-Romo, where a cluster of these ladies were huddled over a recently-
purchased libretto, desperately trying to make sense of the drama about to
unfold. One of them read aloud in an accent as thick as Louisiana humidity:
"Now, girls, listen up! It says here that Amelia 'prostrates' herself before
her husband and pleads to see their son one last time." One of her fellow
matrons interrupted: "Prostrate? Ain't that a body part?"
The audience was, uh, shall we say--enthusiastic? Pavarotti's entrance was
greeted by several denizens of the city running down the main floor aisles,
waving signs proclaiming: "Welcome to Memphis, Mr. Pavarotti!" The tenor
froze milked the ovation for all it was worth--about 5 minutes of nonstop
"yahoos" and wolf whistles.
Everything was lustily cheered. And I do mean everything. Any cadenza, any
high note, any pausa of more than .85 seconds--you name it, the Memphis
audience expressed its approval indiscriminately. Poor Cruz-Romo had her
gallows scene aria interrupted so many times with premature applause that she
resorted to guiding her adoring public through the subsequent "Morro" number
with traffic-cop gestures and other signals meant to keep the groundlings
I remember being quite outraged by such shenanigans in my youth but now recall
those experiences with fondness. Although there were plenty of dogs trotted
out for the tour performances, the Met occasionally assembled casts that any
opera house might have envied.
Rudolf Bing once described the Met tour as "an albatross hung around the neck
of the manager of the Metropolitan Opera." He frequently complained that
expenses incurred by the tour were almost prohibitive. The advent of
televised opera is frequently cited as the final blow to the viability of the
Met's annual tour. But as Roberta Peters has rightfully noted: "Television
is wonderful, but there is nothing like a *live* performance--that's where
real communication takes place. The Met tour was a way for the company to
reach out to the country and communicate in person, and touring is essential
if we want to keep opera alive in America."
Miss Peters obviously laments the demise of the spring tour. So do I. Anyone
else miss those annual visits by the Met?