Coda: The Performance I Can't Forget
Saturday, April 25, 2009, I faced an epic conflict of passions.
WQXR was broadcasting Götterdämmerung live from
the Met. That same afternoon ESPN was broadcasting live from Radio
City Music Hall the 2009 National Football League Draft.
I am a passionate football fan and essayist about the game. But I
am also a passionate Ring nut. What to do? I decided to
listen to the gods die. I owed them that much. Here is why:
Several years ago, on a Monday night following a Sunday when my
football team, the New York Giants, played an inexplicably lousy
game against the Titans (giants versus gods, as it happened), I
dragged my depressed and achy self up to Lincoln Center for a
performance of Don Giovanni at the Met. Since opera and
football seasons run sort of simultaneously, football and opera
have long huddled together in my Filofax. Some of my weekends are a
hoot - how about Frau ohne Schatten in a mix with the San
Francisco 49ers? - and I'm always talking about scripting the four
quarters of a football game as the four operas of the Ring
That year, though, was the first time I'd picked a Monday-night
subscription, the first time I'd been to an opera the night after a
football loss, so I'd never realized that the football and opera
gods actually conspired on these overlapping schedules. Football
and opera belong together, because bad-game pain is an
art-enhancing drug. I'll explain. Let's go to the Met on the night
I made the wondrous discovery.
As I said, I was feeling awful. Suffering caused by a bad football
game is like a crushing blow to the soul delivered by what one
trusted was a faithful lover - except with football the feeling
lasts only until Wednesday. Still, Mondays are the worst, and there
I was going to the Met on that Monday, prickled with pain, limping
along. But as I stepped from the dank, gray subway passageway into
the warmth of the Met's lower-level entrance, everything began to
seem different. Gathered at the nibbles bar were my people, people
who loved opera - and here I was, one of them. I was so grateful
for the communal embrace that I stopped brooding over the Giants'
My senses had become extraordinarily sharp. As I rose up the
staircase to the Grand Tier, the blood-red turf was glowing like an
acid trip. And my fellow operagoers seemed to be individually
etched in light. They were extraordinarily costumed, maquillaged,
making extravagantly large gestures with mouths and arms, like
extras in those highly colored Maxim's scenes from Gigi, the
ones with Eva Gabor in hot velvet and Leslie Caron being dragged
around in that white gown.
I slipped like an artful running back between the heavy curtains
partitioning the grand tier boxes and - was I imagining that
someone had actually replaced the broken springs in my box seat?
Well, maybe not, but now the house lights floated up and dimmed. My
post-game wounded heart missed a dark beat and soared up with the
How could this Don have been the same Don I've heard
a thousand times? Every instrument, every vocal line was so finely
delineated, I was traveling along internal paths I never knew
about. Okay, this is the first of the two greatest operas ever
written, but tonight all of those awkward libretto lapses suddenly
made sense - more than sense: they informed me. In their
repetitions and seemingly pointless side ventures, they felt more
like actual life than plot contrivances. Hey, people do repeat
themselves endlessly, do rush off to masked balls without a
Startlingly, I now perceived the trio of ditsy dames were aspects
of multifarious me! Was this the best cast in centuries? Terfel,
Fleming, Kringelborn, Groves, Hong and Furlanetto - everyone so
perfect, so glorious, so real. So laugh-out-loud funny. Bitter and
True that a day after having my football butt kicked, my eyes
spontaneously filled with tears not during the loveliest "Là
ci darem" in my memory but for "Batti, batti," that
beat-me-bruise-me number; but I was otherwise so enraptured that I
was not conscious of the previous day's football disaster at
At intermission I comprehended what had happened. It was not that
the opera distracted me from the same old agony over a lost
football game. It was the other way around: the exquisite anguish
sensitized me exquisitely. Every note rapped upon my inner soreness
as if it were digging into and massaging me simultaneously.
The Don was dragged by the Stone Guest into a fiery hell, the stage
cleared, and all dissolved into that heavenly sextet. And I had the
rare experience of melting into, becoming one with art no longer
delineated by genre. It was not simply music, or painting, or
literature, or drama. It was all of them, all together, which of
course is what opera at its greatest is.
The sensation carried me right over the pain, flew me directly into
That was the football story. So what can be said about opera?
People get betrayed in hideous ways, expire violently via
stabbings, poisons, self-immolation, or just by falling down.
Villains get punished and heroes win, if only by dying and
achieving redemption (whatever that means) at the final curtain.
Suspense is in nuance, thrill in a thrilling voice.
Unlike football, opera is explicable: you always know what's going
to happen, you know how it's going to end. Nobody ever just …
And that's why I listened to Götterdämmerung.
NAOMI FEIN, a New Yorker from birth, has written on subjects as
disparate as professional football and Galileo. She is currently
working on two memoirs and articles about weird musical
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