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At the Metropolitan Opera, with a Partial View of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose

Shortly after the Met's house lights dimmed and the crystal chandeliers were raised to the ceiling for the opening scene of William Kentridge's production of Dmitri Shostakovich’s The Nose, I anticipated that I was going to have a good time, despite the fact that I couldn't see the whole stage. Sitting in the back row of Box 1 in the Parterre, the seats above the orchestra and under the Grand Tier, I arrived with full knowledge that the seat I purchased was designated one with a "partial view."

I didn't care. I just wanted to see some of Kentridge's innovative production and listen to Shostakovich's music under the baton of Valery Gergiev. Another reason I was there was because I wanted the experience of sitting in a box seat in the Parterre. I've been to the Met on several previous occasions and had tickets ranging from the orchestra to the Dress Circle to the nosebleed sections of Family Circle, but while sitting in those seats, I always envied the people sitting in intimate groups of six in the side boxes. They looked like they belonged in Renoir's painting, La Loge (1874), or in a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel, feigning interest in the stage but really directing their opera glasses toward some smoldering object of desire across the balcony. Sitting in a box seat at the Met would magically pull back the curtain on New York wealth and power, I thought, and reveal the true interests of the city's elite to rest in the vagaries of private passion.

After arriving at the Met just on time and fumbling with the directions to the discrete Parterre, the usher invited me to follow her to my assigned box seat. Passing through the plush red corridor, I followed her to the entrance door, which she opened, and she then motioned me to to proceed alone into a matching red antechamber, complete with its own fainting couch, mirror and coat hooks. At the end of the narrow room, I opened the door to the opera house itself, quickly locating my seat to the back left. After taking in the spectacle of the sold-out house - there are 3800 seats in the Met, I began to relax when I started exchanging pleasantries with my unfamiliar companions, recognizing them to be not pretentious Knickerbockers but rather fellow members of my own class of Whole Foods-loving bourgeois bohemians. Through casual chit-chat, I learned the front row came for the music, and the big draw for the back row was Kentridge. Everyone was encouraged to scoot over as far as possible to the right so we could see the stage.

Oh, the opera. Understand that because of the sight lines, I never saw anything taking place on the left side of the stage (or from the singers' point of view, stage right), so I'm basically not in position to fully evaluate the visuals of Kentridge's production. The right side looked swell! I could follow the satirical plot, one based on a story by Gogol about a low-level bureaucrat who loses his nose in the barber's chair, hear the intriguing music, and even observe the excellent lead, Paulo Szot as Kovalyov, when he appeared downstage. I was most fond of the character of the Nose itself (played by tenor Gordon Gietz), who took to strolling about St. Petersburg like a flâneur. "The Nose is out strolling!," read the translation on my personal electronic Parterre subtitle device. The humorous newspaper scene in Act II  involved a complex canon of eight voices, and the mishmash of folk tunes and balalaika music veered into completely unexpected passages underscored with an unusual dependence on percussion. If I missed some of the action on stage, I did have an excellent view of the percussion section, facing toward me on the opposite side of the orchestra pit. The costumes by Greta Goiris were particularly intriguing, especially when the full chorus assembled, expressing the colors, themes, and collage of a urban Russian public. Considering my overall enjoyment of the entire experience, I would sit in that seat again.

The next performance of The Nose is Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 8 p.m. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes. There is no intermission. For more information about the Metropolitan Opera's season and tickets, please consult their website.

For other members of the frugal aesthetic class who would like to attend the Metropolitan Opera but who would not mind standing in line, please consider the $20 Rush Tickets. Two hundred orchestra seats for regular performances Monday through Thursday (excluding galas, special events, and opening nights of new productions, according to the Met website) are available (rather, subject to availability) to the general public beginning two hours before curtain. 50 are set aside for senior citizens. More information about the program on the Met's site. These are good seats, especially considering the price. The line, however, can get long for popular productions, with people showing up in the morning. Also, standing room tickets may be available as well. Again, consult the website for more information.

iPhoneography images of the Metropolitan Opera House and the Lincoln Center fountain from Thursday, March 18.

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A Walk from Lincoln Center to Zabar's









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