23 February 2005

Met-iquette, part I

Your Queen-approved Maximum Pleasure Guide to Attending Met Performances

Ever wonder whether it's kosher to throw your underwear onto the opera stage for the new hottie barihunk? Extreme, yes, but still within the realm of possibility. We're chatting about opera, after all. Sieglinde is folksy enough to pull together a list of tips on proper behavior to help guide you through the intricate process of attending opera, specifically at the Met. The list below, Part One of an ambitious series, should cover every aspect of your life prior to the opera's curtain.

1. Buy a ticket. Sieglinde never buys full price, nor should you, unless it's potentially a sold-out to-do, in which case proceed gayly to tip #2. Those genteel accountants-by-day, scalpers-by-night out on the plaza are your points of access to world-class opera. They are always out there, through rain, sleet, or Valayre-show. Wait till about 7:50pm, approach the best-dressed guy (in a tux, preferrably), offer $10 for his spare orchestra seat, and see what happens. (Threaten to subtract a dollar for every minute that passes.)

2. If necessary, buy ticket in advance. These include all La Portaméenta events, Ring cycles, the Good Friday Parsifal, some Met premieres (works from bel canto to verismo will sell out; anything before or after will probably not, except if designed by Julie Taymor or headlined by Karita Mattila), and debuts of anyone featured on the front pages of the New York Times (prematurely or otherwise). The dirt-cheap route would be to leave the Roxy at 3am the Saturday before (yeah, just when the boys are getting hotter) and sashay to the standing room line. The line forms secretly at the Met basement, (parking garage level); leave those tourists alone to form their own little pathetic line out on the plaza. Caveat: Aprile Millo evenings are a tough call: could be one of those magical nights mythologized for generations, or a routine run-through with the Russian-import cover. Sieglinde says to buy the cheapest ticket and attend, at the very least to earn the right to bitch about it for generations in the likely event of a no-show.

3. Do homework: read before the big event. Honey, skip the New York Times and head straight to the queer blogs, opera-l, and (if you dare) rec.music.opera to know the latest backstage dish. Practice saying things like "girl took her time to warm up, but by her second aria, god was she on fire" or "someone puhleeze lecture the conductor on tempi" or "seriously, what career, she can't even mezza voce" or "I hate Zeffirelli as much as you, but this Eurotrash thing just isn't my kind of Xanax" in the event you're asked at intermission to comment on any aspect of the evening. Also, keep names like Felice Huni-Mihacsek, Irene Minghini-Cattaneo, Ottilie Metzger-Latterman, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Katerina Senger-Bettaque, Adelaide Borgi-Mamo, Jeanne Gerville-Reache, Lily Hafgren-Waag, and Marie Texier-Gauley ready in your arsenal at all times, in case you're called upon to give the eager newbie some perspective and healthy doses of nostalgia and bitterness.

4. Listen extensively to pirate recordings. Take note of which arias and cabalettas are routinely interrupted by applause, and by how much (but put aside Covent Garden recordings: Brits just don't know how to get "hard" about anything); which kinds of things get bravas, which don't; how long the high note has to be held to be classified as "historic" (skip Magda Olivero's recordings on this issue because she leaves everyone in the dust); how many blank minidiscs to bring, etc..

5. Dress appropriately. The more Blackglama you look, the farther your standing room ticket can get you. The ushers down at the orchestra and grand tier have been instructed to stop any Jersey-types to check their tickets, so accessorize and behave as if you belong in the $200's. If you're happy to sit upstairs, then by all means wear the most comfy stain-proof clothing in your closet.

6. For security reasons, please do not bring huge suitcases, bags, backpacks, parcels, or boxes to the opera house. The latest models of video-cams and other recording equipment can now fit neatly in the sheerest couture frocks. Other things to take with you: two binoculars (in case one breaks), digital camera, cough drops for your tubercular seatmate (get them free next door at Avery Fisher), home-made confetti (in case Aprile Millo actually shows, who needs to waste their intermissions tearing up programs), sushi and a spare set of undergarments (for Wagner operas that begin at 6:30pm), gold and silver markers for the meet-and-greet by the stage door following the performance, as well as covers of CDs, LPs, magazines, old programs, and bad reviews of rivals you'd like signed by the diva.

7. Not all bathrooms are created equal. The amount of ventilation in the boys' bathroom is directly proportional to the average ticket price of its location. (Curiously, Sieglinde can't speak about the girls' bathroom. She's not lesbian, after all.) One can feel a refreshing breeze from vents at the two bathrooms servicing the orchestra level, but up at the balcony/family circle bathroom, save your breath. I hear this is part of a detailed strategy to regulate bathroom activities of opera queens. And I don't mean that (the gutter's for during the opera, sugar). It's to combat piracy by making it too pukey gross to be changing cassette tapes in the bathroom stalls.

8. Bladder peace is opera happiness. If it's your everyday Wagner, go 3 minutes before each act's curtain in order to maximize bladder "space". Never ever drink an hour before Act I, and skip the intermission beverages. Yes, coffee will keep you awake through the deadly Act IIs of Meistersinger, Tristan, Walküre, and Parsifal, but only because of caffeine's action on your delicate liquid homeostasis. Remember, the Met likes to do many operas uncut these days. And they do Der Fliegende Hollander as a one-acter, so it's best to leave grandma home for it. (Bring Detrol for Elektra, Salome, and Das Rheingold.) For Puccini, drinks for free at the Ezio Pinza!

9. Scan the place to make sure the Met universe is in order. After taking your seat and appraising your neighbor's borrowed couture, take the time to orient yourself. Lois Kirschenbaum is the white hair with black-rimmed 60s glasses, seated usually in the back left family circle boxes or the left balcony, depending on availability. (You'll meet her and her posse at the stage door after the opera.) If it's a can't-miss evening, look for Mr. Fire Island and his boyfriends in a left balcony box, opera-l creatures setting up their assigned sniper positions (also at the balcony level bathrooms and the Millo pole during intermission), old queens salivating over newly minted opera chicks, the occasional lesbian academic in drag, at least one Japanese woman in elegant kimono, and shifty characters with wires sticking out their vests. If a routine evening, Park Avenue teenagers in nice clothes on first dates, ethnic attendees consistent with the nationalities represented in the second cast, an embarrassing abundance of Asian-Caucasian couples for Turandot and M. Butterfly, and the same shifty characters with wires sticking out their vests. If they're all there, everything is in clean order, and the opera can begin safely. But first, reach for the cellphone and make sure it's on vibrate.

10. Achieve star status early; be the only one in your section not to applaud the entrance of the maestro. He has to earn yours, after all. The conductor comes out from the right side of the pit; the moment you see Krusty the Clown curls emerge from the pit door, start yapping with the lady behind you about the prior evening's dreadful performance. This way, your seatmates will think you've been many times, that you're deftly familiar with big-house routine, that you have opinions, and they will know to take them seriously.

(pick up binoculars and adjust focus)

(take a deep breath, lose yourself)