10 May River Guard, 1st year Masters student, describes DAY ONE in NYC.
Yesterday morning at 7:30am, everyone at University of Toronto Opera arrived at Pearson airport, sleepy and excited, ready to embark on our annual trip to the big apple.
Every year, the opera masters and diploma students are lucky enough to participate in a 3 day journey of learning, food, and laughter in one of the greatest cultural hubs in the world, New York, New York, with no cost to ourselves. This trip is made possible by some of UofT Opera’s greatest supporters, Richard and Donna Holbrook, and having arrived here and spent our first day in one of the greatest cities I’ve ever been to, I know I can speak for all of us when I say how unbelievably grateful we are for this opportunity.
This is not my first time in the city, having gone through for various auditions and not often for pleasure. But this time in NYC has been different. There’s something special about being able to be here with some of your best friends and colleagues, wandering through Central Park before a Met opera, eating some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever had, and having your cab driver nod to sleep every time there’s a red light on 57th. There’s something special about being here with these people and about being here for one single purpose. Opera.
When we arrived yesterday and finally set our bags down in the hotel, the first thing on our itinerary (after scarfing down something yummy and greasy at The Flame diner) was none other than an hour long backstage tour of The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Centre. No big deal, huh? We were taken all through the catacombs of this huge, legendary theatre, into the orchestra level of the house, past all the underground rehearsal halls, through all the prop shops and costume rooms, and backstage to see the set of the opera we were to see that night, Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. Our tour guide told us about how the met had moved from being on broadway to the newly built Lincoln centre half way through the 20th century, mostly because there wasn’t enough room for all the sets and moving parts required to put on a full scale opera. She told us about the 1 million and a half squares of 24 carat gold leaf that cover the ceiling of the main hall, and how the architect of the new building also built Rockefeller centre. These may be things you all already knew, but for me, learning these things while looking right at it’s unbelievable majesty was something else. We passed by countless people on our trip through the endless levels of the Met, everyone with their own specific job all working towards achieving a production of the highest quality possible. I was astounded at this fact, for it made me realize how much revenue and donations an operation of this size needs to generate in order to stay open – how many salaries need to be paid, how much maintenance all of the props and costumes need daily, and how many moving parts there need to be during a show to make sure it goes picture perfect, which it always does. It was an unbelievable experience, and one that I will not soon forget.
From there, we went for a deliciously authentic Mexican dinner at a little place called El Centro on 9th between 54th and 55th, and man did this knock my socks off. It was a tiny little place, like most homey spots in NYC are, but best believe the place was packed from when we got there to when we left, and looking around there were many satisfied faces. Great mojitos, pina coladas, and endless chips and salsa to start, which Brandon Tran, our fearless pianist and friend who loves good savings, was very pleased about. It was a wonderful ambience, paired with exciting and comforting food – a hard balance to pull off – and just close enough to walk to our final destination of the night: back to the Met for our first of 3 operas.
The show was, in a word: awe-inspiring. The whole production was huge, dynamic, detailed, and very well sung. The set was as deep into the back of the stage as it was lavish, with so much room for the singers to pace back and forth and to run from one end of the stage to the other and have it take them a good 20 seconds, and the visual detail of what was supposed to be a marble Roman palace was just impossible to tear your gaze away from. We saw some very classy and courageous singing from everyone on stage, particularly from famed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato and tenor Matthew Polenzani, and it was particularly amazing to see one of our own from Faculty of Music UofT on the stage, Em Dang!! She sang with youthful energy in her voice and movements, and shone just as brightly as any of the other older singers. The music was lovely, the plot was dense, and the singing was superb, but is it really opera without all of these things?
Today, we have many new things in store for us, and I cannot wait to see where this amazing journey brings us over the next two days.