You've heard this one before, but you're not allowed to stop me.
The first time I had any inkling my life was about to be hijacked by a large building in the West 60's (though verily I didn't know the West 60's from the West Indies at that point) was around 1990. In the car. I was driving home from whatever effort I had made on a Saturday to stave off the suburban soul-death of high school, and the radio was on, and it was Der Rosenkavalier. I wouldn't get Strauss for a couple of years, but the crazy, pesky little chords that play as Sophie and Oktavian are singing about how goddamn much they like each other flipped some kind of switch, for better or worse. And then I proceeded to go batshit mad for opera, first La Traviata, then anything with Callas, and on and on. And sometime in the middle of college I knew with grim resignation that I was going to have to go to the Met.
I did so in 1997. This here story is feeling like it's about to get unusually autobiographical, and geographical. Maybe it will. I just got the latest issue of The Atlantic--you're bored, you can borrow it.
I think I had just quit a job, and I drove to Beaumont, Texas, as one does. Spent the night in a friend's worn but also lovely house on the Bayou, sleeping among the victrolae. And then to Montgomery where I stayed with the first person I ever...well, let's get back to opera. I drove on to Charlotte, dropped my car off with my sister, and took the train to New York. Yes, it was all out of fear of flying, but it's a hell of a way to see the country, and a hell of a way to arrive in New York. And it feels more like a pilgrimate if you're going to see one eminence of the stage do her thing, so that's worth doing, too.
Stayed with a friend who sings a fine Wotan. He was in law school at NYU and I hadn't an idea of New York so I thought: I wonder if I'm going to get mugged around here, which now is pretty funny. Mugged by Meryl Streep maybe. We walked from NYU to Lincoln Center, stopping at Carnegie Hall so he could give me a backstage tour. He didn't work there but he said if you went down this one hallway and looked like you belonged, you could look out onto the stage or even go out onto it. So we talked really loudly about James Levine and did just that.
On the walk up, another devastating addiction was initiated: Academy Records.
Oh, hm. It's not really possible to digress from something as utterly meandering and pointless as this, so I'll just quickly mention that I also saw Dixie Carter do The Master Class with surprising conviction and Stockard Channing (with a young, hot Frederick Weller) in a Little Foxes that didn't quite gel. And went backstage to have Ms. Channing, who is actually Ms. Stockard, sign a copy of Six Degrees of Separation--the only thing I've ever stolen!
I had a ticket for a non-cycle Walkuere, because this pilgrimage was largely meant to land me at the hem of Deborah Voigt's garment. Voigt and Domingo were doing their Act I show, and Janis Martin was in for Eaglen, which is probably why I was able to score a ticket, and I guess James Morris was there, the beginning of my many years of almost exhausting indifference to him. I had listened to Wotan's Farewell plenty of times and knew it was meant to put her, not us, to sleep.
I had bought my ticket on rec.music.opera from someone I met briefly at intermission who told me her favorite tenor was Bjorling, pronounced Beejerling, which kind of amused me and also let me feel superior because my Swedish is so world-renowned. I was 23 and kind of a putz. She seemed nice.
Oh wait, the point. My friend Wotan and I walked all the way up the day before, and while we were up there, we decided to see if there was standing room for whatever was playing that night, and there was, so I made an unschedued Met debut. The opera that night was Evgenii Onegin, performed by Galina Gorchakova, Vladimir Chernov, a pre-awful Franco Farina...Arkhipova was making her laughably delayed debut as a touching Filipevna and Michel Senechal pulled something off I'd never heard as Triquet, a pianissimo that reached the back row and pinged off the gold paint. Gorchakova hadn't blown it out and was pretty and convincing as Tatiana, young and grown up. Carsen's immaculate production, I believe, was premiering, and there was some consternation about the way he staged the Polonaise. I still think it's a stroke of genius.
Afterward, following instructions from rec.music.opera, I went backstage to have the singers sign my program though I didn't really know of them, to speak of. I asked someone: will Ms. Gorchakova be signing programs? Yes, they said, but she doesn't speak much English. And thus was my entire college education justified. (Well, not really. I've always maintained that reading Onegin in the original is the only real reason to go to the trouble of learning Russian.) She was friendly and pleasant, flattered me by asking, when I said "I'm a student of Russian," "Student, a ne uchitel'?" A student, not a teacher? There's a picture of me with her. I look thin.
I bring it up at all because tomorrow night is my 75th trip to the building in the West 60's, and they're so kind as to indulge my nostalgia, putting on the very same opera.