Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Life at the Opera

Last night the Uber Understudy Super (me) finally got to put on a wig and costume and get onstage. As we arrived at the theater we saw a memo announcing that our favorite yearly event at the Lyric, the end of season company party, has become the latest casualty of the deepening recession. It feels like our family reunion just got cancelled—every year we gather with choristers and stagehands, dressers and makeup artists, security guards and supers—folks we have worked with, and folks my children are growing up with, and in the glittering lobby of our favorite place, we lift a glass, and make a Sundae at the make your own bar. And while the Lyric is faring better than some opera companies like Baltimore , it is not immune to shrinking endowments and curtailed corporate contributions. But even more than in the good times, we NEED opera in the bad times. One because it is cathartic to weep over the tragedy of Manon and Lulu and be grateful you are not them. Two, because a Mozart song spiel is the ultimate diversion when your kids college fund has just melted into thin air, and three, because sometimes music really is better than food. But the real reason why Opera is so important right now is because it is important to be part of something timeless, to experience something that has been around giving people pleasure for hundreds of years. Opera has survived wars, epidemics, panics, bank runs, the great depression, revolutions. It will be with us in some form or another when these storm clouds blow over, and it tells our human story the way nothing else can. It feels right to be a part of a river of common experience that flows back into time the way sitting in an opera house and listening to these amazing sounds does. I have done my part to continue the tradition, charging my cheap seats of a yearly All the Operas subscription in the back of the upper balcony even though I have no idea what we are going to do if my husband doesn’t scare up some work soon. We may be hungry, but we’ll be at the opera.(Of course, I have always bought tickets instead of food--in grad school I ate ramen and stolen bread for a week after spending my entire grocery budget on great seats to opening of The Photographer at BAM) And this year the end of year party will be potlucks in the canteen at closing shows for the dedicated volunteers that supers are, and I will hand make my good bye tokens instead of purchasing them. And we will all cross our fingers that the scions of industry and powerful people that run the world figure a way out of this pickle before we all look like the rabble that opened the season with Manon. But come fall, I will be back: back stage if there are super roles, back balcony if there are not, ready to experience Heaven and Hell the way only the Lyric can dish it up.

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