Monday, February 9, 2009

Popcorn, Opera, Cup Holders, and the Church

Saturday I went to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera and saw Donizetti's "Lucia de Lamermoor."    I suppose I shouldn’t give you the false impression that I actually went to New York City.  In fact, the Opera came to me, live from New York, via a High Definition satellite broadcast to a movie theater in West Des Moines.  It was fantastic and I just have to tell you about the experience.  

I know what you’re saying.  “So what?”  Well, I’m thinking going to your first opera is a lot like going to church.  There are only three reasons you go:  1.  Because you’re invited and you said “yes” and you can’t get out of it.  2.  You go  for someone else’s sake: because your parents make you go or because you think it’s good for the kids or your spouse or whatever.  3.  You enjoy it.  (Someday we’ll have  to talk about how to make church more enjoyable).   

OK, I admit it.  I like opera. My parents took me when I was younger but I fell in love with it while living in Eastern Europe.  It’s what people do there.  You go to the opera to escape, to be taken away from your cares and transported to a different world if only for a while.  You also get to have special things like “Opera Cake” (which is only available at the Opera House) and maybe some champagne.  The tickets are very reasonable and you put on your very best clothes and all the social classes mingle together at the coat check and in the cafe.   It’s an amazing atmosphere at the opera.  People are reverent.  They speak in hushed tones.  You sit on really hard chairs for hours.... (doesn’t this sound like church?)

I’ve never been to a Met Opera performance in New York.  But I imagine it isn’t that much different than opera’s in the East except perhaps on a grander scale and with more padding in the chairs.  But now, the Met is trying something new.  They are reaching out to a new audience and using the very latest technology to do it.  And it seems to be working.  They’ve sold a million tickets to audiences around the world who are watching the opera live in movie theaters this year.  

I admit I was skeptical.  I didn’t jump at the chance when it was first offered.  Let’s face it:  what is the opera experience without really uncomfortable chairs?  You can’t have Grand Opera in a movie theater!  Movie theaters are the home of popcorn and hot dogs and Cokes, not Opera Cake and champagne.  It’s just too weird.

It may be weird, but it works.  The visual quality of the broadcast was amazing.  You see the tenor there in front of you, 20 feet tall.  You can see his sweat and whether or not he brushed his teeth.  Even in the front row at most opera houses you can’t see that.  The digital sound quality is amazing too.  It’s like being there.  And you get so much more than if you were there in person.  Before the performance and during the intermissions, a host takes you around and interviews the principals.  Then you go backstage and watch them break down the sets between acts.  They interview technical people, prop people, make up people, it’s incredible the information they share with you.  Maybe that’s it.  Living in the Information Age, being given so much more information than I would have if I visited the Met is a real treat.  

The experience struck me as a mix between some sort of interactive website that answers questions about the Opera and provides “extras” like interviews and director’s cuts combined with an Opra-esque pre-show/post show experience.  Truly amazing.

I was also amazed by the audience.  Some of them were elderly.  Some of them were young.  Some of the men wore sport coats and others wore jeans.  Almost everyone ate popcorn and I had a hot dog and a Coke.  And we all sat on wonderfully comfortable chairs with cup holders and we could get up and leave and go to the restroom any time we wanted too and there were no ushers to keep us in the corridor until the act was over.  Wow.  It was like all the rules were gone but the opera was still a world class performance.  

Now some will argue that opera just isn’t opera without uncomfortable chairs and Opera Cake and people dressed up.  Others will argue that if you want to reach a new generation, you’d better be prepared to change the environment so the new people feel at home.  Believe it or not, I’m not going to weigh in on that.  I just want to tell you what I saw. 

I saw elegant older folks dressed well as if they were going out for a nice dinner or to church.  I saw older folks in jeans.  I saw younger folks in business casual and I saw younger folks in jeans.  But what united them was a love for opera that was made possible by an HD live satellite broadcast.  I heard them talk enthusiastically about the interviews and the other informational segments during the intermissions.  I saw a whole theater of people enjoying the Met together in a way they wouldn’t have been able to do before.  Young or old, tech savvy or not, they were there courtesy of this modern satellite marvel to share a common passion.

Yesterday in church one of our older members went out of her way to tell me that despite some frustrations which she had to work through, she had succeeded in finding and reading my blog.  I told her I was in awe of her as many younger people would never even try.  But she told me that you had to stay current in order to stay in touch with family far away through e-mail.  Now that’s technology in the service of communication and the church is in the communication business and we have an Old, Old Story to tell about our Savior.  

I guess what I’m wondering is this:  is the Church willing to stay current to stay in touch?  If so, we may experience a crowd of young and old, different races, different social classes.  All brought together in a variety of formats by one common passion:  Jesus. 



  2. I've never experienced opera. But I found your blog! And I like going to church!