When we’re young we experience the pleasure of living through transformative experiences for the first time. When we are old, we experience the redoubled joy of watching our young ones discover the things we’ve loved. We know what they will see, and anticipate what they will hear; we look forward to learning what they feel.
My children are about to take their spouses on an adventure that has filled our family with joy for generations. They will not wear gowns or tuxedos, as people did in my day, but they will certainly be dressed with extra care, because they’re venturing into a world peopled by ladies and gentlemen, where everyone speaks in rounded tones, and better manners are displayed.
They will walk up a busy plaza, and pass by a glittering fountain, where tourists take each others’ pictures and youngsters pause to kiss in the moist air. They will see enormous posters, inviting them to come and witness the greatest artists of our day. They’ll look at the marbled edifice where they are headed, and through its great windows, they’ll see enormous Chagall originals, painted by the master’s hand and hung where they can be enjoyed by neophytes and cognoscenti alike.
As they approach the great glass doors, anxious devotees will beg them to give up their tickets, since these are no longer available. They will not divest themselves of their prized chits until they’re standing inside, ready to prove to the beautifully uniformed greeters that they have purchased their right to proceed.
Then they’ll walk up red-carpeted stairs, and enter the great gold elevators that will carry them to the highest tier of the auditorium. As they emerge, I hope they will listen to the people with whom they’ll wait in the lobby. These aren’t the jaded gentry, entertaining clients or impressing the sweet young things they hope to seduce. They’re the ones who really love the art in which they’re about to become immersed… the ones who will speak of past productions, and compare today’s performers with those who were silenced long ago.
They’ll feel a moment of magic as they enter the auditorium, and once again as they take their red velvet seats. The first view of their surroundings will leave them short of breath. They’ll marvel at the cavernous hall… the impossibly vast stage, which seems to be more than a block away… the rising bands of seats, filled with people abuzz with excitement…the gleaming gold ceilings, that form a sky worthy of deities.
If they are like me, they will be most mesmerized by the lamps. It’s impossible to describe the marvel of these crystal clusters, emitting and reflecting light with an intensity and an incandescence that would put most galaxies to shame. How they glimmer! How they glow! How they transport the spectator into a marvelous dimension where light is sound and sound is warmth and warmth is love, and love is knowledge and knowledge is joy!
And then the lights will dim. The lamps will be raised higher and higher. The house will become dark.
Down below the stage, a simple light will shine. A man will step up to a podium, and the house will be filled with applause.
The program will begin.
The orchestra will knit the sound of its instruments into a flawless carpet on which voices can ride and rise. Singers will produce sounds which the angels might envy, as they act out stories of uncommon passion. Harmonies will be heard which will never be forgotten, which will play in one’s head and one’s heart whenever there’s a need for beauty, and for transcendence.
And then the performance will end. The audience will stand and applaud, the performers will bow and blow kisses, flowers will fly through the air, tears will be shed all around. There will be those who rush out of the building, hoping to catch those damned elusive cabs that race out to Port Authority. Others will slowly emerge, walking as though in a dream, trying to recapture the ephemeral glow of everything they’ve seen and heard.
Those who attempt to speak will find their voices still filled with wonder.
Those who reach out to touch their companions will find their hearts incandescent with love.
I am proud of my children for introducing their spouses to the opera, and I pray the day comes when they’ll bring their children to the Met as well.