Gotham Diary:
Cold Seat

Ten days or so ago, in a burst of strange enthusiasm, I bought a couple of expensive opera tickets. I almost immediately regretted having done so, and this regret materialized in the form of a certainty that the tickets would not arrive in time via the mail — which indeed they did not. I was assured that this wouldn’t be a problem, and indeed it wasn’t: when I called the Metropolitan Opera this afternoon to report the problem, I was told that tickets would be waiting for me at the box office. But I asked instead to donate them. Now I can wait for a tax certificate instead.

The opera in question was Capriccio, which for all of my adult life has been a beloved work of art. I know every line; I even own a full score. The flash of enthusiasm that I felt ten days ago, excited by an ad in the online edition of the Times, was an urge to see the role performed by a great exponent of Richard Strauss’s music, Renée Fleming. I booked two aisle seats in the parterre. They were fairly far back, but still very pricey.

If I’d bought just one ticket, maybe I’d have gone. The prospects of hustling to Lincoln Center in time to fetch the tickets at the box office, on the one hand, and of dragging Kathleen along with me, after her week in bed with a bad flu, on the other, combined to transform an evening to look forward to into a nightmare. And in fact I had a bad dream about it this morning, one that woke me up. 

There was a third worry: Capriccio, properly performed, runs for two and half hours, without intermission. I’m certain that I would spend the final hour — full of beautiful music thought it be — longing for a bathroom. Some pleasure. Until the seat donation was settled, I

Most people would probably agree that my ability to take pleasure in anything is too dependent upon my physical comfort. But I can’t enjoy anything if I’m irritated by aches and pangs. I can endure. But few things are as wicked, in my view, as enduring what ought to be pleasure. The falseness is unspeakable.

I saw Capriccio at the Met thirteen years ago, when the production was new, and I recall that the great pleasure of the evening was sitting in a theatre full of people who, thanks to Met Titles, were enjoying the civilized repartee that constitutes the opera’s libretto. Like almost all of my recollections of evenings at the Met, beautiful music did not figure much in what was memorable. This isn’t to say that the performances were unsatisfactory; but there was no special joy in hearing familiar music in the opera house.

Give me a concert performance at Carnegie Hall any time.