The Met opened the season on Monday 9/26 with an opera that had never been done there before, Donizetti’s *Anna Bolena*. This was his first hit, written in 1830. The Met is opening this season and the next two with his “Tudor queen” operas - - *Anna Bolena* this year, *Maria Stuarda* next year, and *Roberto Deveureux* (Elizabeth I is the diva in that one) in 2013. All are being directed by David McVicar, who did the Met’s wonderful *Trovatore* a few years ago.
Richard and I went to the second performance, on Friday 9/30, also with his friend Emmy. We’re all fans of Anna Netrebko, the Russian soprano who was playing the titular heroine. This was my first trip to the Met this season, not counting my encounter with Tony Bennett earlier in the month.
The production got some bad reviews, the critics thought it was unimaginative. Well, you can’t please these people. We liked it, it presented the opera in a straightforward way, it didn’t get in the way at all. It was nice to see an intelligently-done traditional production - - I’m not an old fogy, but it’s a relief to know you won’t be seeing a jungle gym, a projection of the pelvic bone, or yet another black leather trenchcoat.
I’ll save Netrebko for last. I’ll mention the conductor, before I forget - - Marco Armiliato. He also got bad reviews, but I didn’t notice anything wrong, or even subpar. I was grinning all through the overture, it was bristling with that toe-tapping Italian thing.
Ekaterina Gubanova was the second female lead, Giovanni Seymour, Henry VIII’s next wife. She sang very well, but I think her full-throttle delivery is suited more for Verdi than Donizetti. Still, her girlfight scene with Anna in the second act was a standout. Stephen Costello was the tenor, Anna’s ex, Percy. Richard and I saw him in a bit part in *Lucia* a couple years ago, he was Lucia’s husband who ends up being hacked to bits. He sang well in that and the internet was crowing about him being the hot new thing. His role in *Bolena* was his first major role at the Met, and I think he might grow up to be a very fine singer.
Ildar Abdrazakov was Henry VIII. Gorgeous voice, real vocal glamour - - the kind of voice that makes you want to listen to it. Would love to hear him again. The pick of the litter, in the supporting roles, was Tamara Mumford as the page. She’s sung over a hundred performances of small parts at the Met, and this was her first major supporting role (is that a contradiction in terms?). Lovely voice, and really knows how to use it.
These characters all contribute a lot to the success of the evening, but a performance of *Anna Bolena* sinks or swims on the strengths (or lack thereof) of the soprano playing Anna. Netrebko swam like an Olympian. There are other sopranos who would sing the fioritura (all those fast little notes) more cleanly, more idiomatically, but she has such an innately gorgeous voice, is such a committed singer, and such a world-class musician, that she totally makes the role her own. She sings it on her own terms, and she triumphs. Talk about vocal glamour, she has GOT it. Ravishing beautiful voice, with a distinctive dark color, and rock solid high notes, which she sings either bright and piercing or lush and shimmering. This was her first opening night at the Met, and she earns her place as an A-list opera singer. Plus she has a marvelous effortless charisma onstage, what the Italians and other opera nuts call grandezza. She’s only forty, I’ll be following her closely to see what happens with her. She could have many great years ahead of her, she could be still approaching her prime.
* * *
But the real drama took place even before we got in our seats! This year, for the first time, I bought a subscription to the Met. In previous years, even if I was buying tickets for ten or twelve shows, I waited until single tickets went on sale and bought them in a pile. I was worried this year, with the two final Ring operas coming up, that there wouldn’t be any tickets left for them, so I bit the bullet and bought a subscription. It wasn’t that big of a deal, and they’re very flexible, and best of all, I was able to buy all the extra single tickets I needed before they went on sale to the great unwashed masses. I might do this again. I might not.
So for *Anna B* I had my one ticket from my subscription, plus two extra tickets. Emmy graciously offered to sit alone, and let Richard and me hold hands in the two seats together. The show started at 7:30. We got there at 7:15. She handed her ticket to the guy, he blipped it, she went in. We handed our tickets to the guy, he blipped them, he said, “These tickets have been reprinted, you have to go the box office.” We told Emmy we’d see her upstairs.
We waited in line at the box office. I gave my tickets to the guy in window A, said I didn’t know what was wrong. He looked me up in the computer, gave me a regretful smile, and said, “You need to see the man in window E.” We went to window E. There was an old guy there frothing at the mouth. “I drove all the way here from Maryland. I’m missing a family holiday dinner, and you’ve put me in row M? My subscription is in row G, it’s shameful that you’re putting me in row M. The girl who switched my tickets, she may have thought she was doing me a favor, but she should be shot.” Let me say that his tickets were In His HAND. His transaction was over, he was just complaining at this point. The poor guy behind the window kept leaning over and looking at me, to try and give the guy from Maryland the picture that someone else was waiting to be seen. Then he started going through his spiel again about driving all the way from Maryland, the family holiday dinner, row M, so I launched into a few “Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, SIR.” He flailed his hands and stormed off in a huff. At this point it was about 7:24.
I gave my tickets to the guy at the box office, said I didn’t know what was wrong. He looked me up in the computer.
HIM: Were you here earlier today?
ME: No, I was not.
HIM: Because someone was here at 10:04 this morning, asking that these tickets be reprinted.
ME: Well that’s very disturbing, because it wasn’t me.
HIM: Could I see some ID, please?
I gave him my driver’s license. He called over someone else from the box office, got on the phone, talked with a third person, kept looking at me in a worried and worry-inducing manner. Finally he gave me back my tickets and said, “You need to go back to the main entrance, and speak with Cosmo, the performance manager.”
Of course we didn’t know who Cosmo was, so we waited in line, asked the guy with the blipper, and he sent us to the side. Cosmo is my hero. He’s somewhere between 50 and 60, was wearing a tux, his laptop resting on a marble countertop. He was on a walkie talkie and on a large 1980’s cell phone. He is clearly a native New Yorker. He said, “Yeah, I was just tawking with the bawx awffice about you. They’re throwing the people out of ya seats right now. If you get upstairs and they’re still there, tell the usha, tell him Cosmo sent ya.”
We were blipped (with special clearance from Cosmo), we got upstairs, and thankfully our seats were empty. I said to Richard the next day, “Who would have the nerve to do such a thing? Why would you go to the box office, pretending to be me, and think that I wouldn’t show up?” Richard said, “But the guy pretending to be you sold your tickets to someone else. He has the cash, he doesn’t care that the people who bought them were thrown out. The larger issue is, how does this guy know to say that he’s you? Someone in the box office has to be in on it.”
I went to the box office on Monday. I bought a ticket for a show in February (Mussorsky’s *Khovanshchina*) and said to the woman at the box office, “And I need to speak with someone about a very serious problem I had when I came to see *Anna Bolena* on Friday.” She said, “Why don’t you tell me?” I started to explain, and after no more than ten seconds, she waved her hands and said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. This isn’t making any sense. Start over, tell me everything.” I started over, and went over the whole story in marvelous exquisite detail (my hallmark, I know).
HER: So why are you upset? You got your seats, you saw the show.
ME: I’m upset because it appears that someone came to the box office pretending to be me and was given my tickets.
HER: That’s not what happened.
ME: Then what happened?
HER: I think someone else came to the box office, let’s say a Mr. Robert Jones. He said, “I’m Robert Jones, I’ve lost my tickets, could you reprint them”, the person at the box office entered his information wrong and gave him your tickets.
ME: That seems a little unlikely to me.
HER: Well let me take another look at your account. [she brings me back up on the computer] Oh my Lord, look at all these exchanges!
HER: So many exchanges, you traded this opera for that opera, traded this performance for that performance, traded this seat for that seat…
ME: Yes, that’s one of my benefits as a subscriber.
HER: Well every time you do that you’re opening up yourself to a problem like this.
ME: Really. So I’ll have to go through this every time I come here this season?
HER: No. I can guarantee that this will never happen again.
ME: Thank you. I am filled with confidence.
I’m conflicted, whether I should let it be or pursue it further. Richard has a pet theory that SHE is the person doing dirty dealings in the box office.