Before 2006, I’d never attended an opera. That year, however, I happened to have a house mate who played in the orchestra for the Sarasota Opera, and he arranged for me to see Madame Butterfly. It was thoroughly enjoyable, despite the fact that my seat was in the very last row of the nosebleed section. For one reason or another, I hadn’t revisited the opera – I am constantly busy, I travel a lot, I am watching my pennies, etc. But this past weekend I happened to run into another musician from the opera, who insisted I should let her hook me up with a “friends and family” ticket to see Tosca that very evening.
I forked over $10 to my friend, rushed home to change into something more presentable, and arrived at the will call window to pick up my ticket with only minutes to spare before the performance began. To my surprise, I was escorted to a second row center seat. From the moment the curtain raised, I was mesmerized. The set was astounding in its detail, the costumes exquisite, and the music enchanting. The opera stars cast in the four leading roles had so perfected their every note and gesture that I felt as if I had been magically transported to Italy (it didn’t hurt that from my travels in Rome I immediately recognized the iconic Castel Sant’ Angelo in the set of the third act). As they belted out their lines, the hair stood up on the back of my neck and I broke out in goosebumps all over. Rarely have I been so affected by a performance.
Even though the opera was sung in Italian, the plot was easy to follow with the help of the synopsis in the program and the English translation that ran across the LED sign mounted above the stage. And I don’t think I will ruin it by divulging that, in the end, everyone dies tragically. In addition to being stunning and spine-tingling, Tosca was absolutely fascinating.
The only negative during the three-hour performance was a strong odor of sewage that pervaded the seating area. At first, I thought it was emanating from one of the people seated near me, but during the first intermission I learned the odor is coming from the orchestra pit. Apparently, it is so far below ground (and Sarasota is pretty much at sea level), that they must continually pump to keep the pit dry and on occasion, a sewage odor also leaks into the pit.
I suspect that the Sarasota Opera would be appalled to learn that the odor is quite that noticeable in the front of the house, especially since these are usually the most expensive seats. However, once I understood the problem, I was able to ignore the smell for the rest of the evening and frankly, it would have taken more than a little smell to distract me from what was one of the most incredible performances I have ever attended.
Sarasota is famous in opera circles. People travel from all over the U.S. to attend because the schedule is designed in such a way that visitors can see four (or even five) different operas in a single week. I’ve only been to two, but already I understand the attraction.