Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Saturday Afternoon Opera

Three years ago the Metropolitan Opera developed a new format, they would broadcast selected Saturday opera matinees in high definition to designated movie theaters. These theaters had to have stadium seating and digital projection capabilities. Because of the capability of cable broadcasting networks these theaters could be located anywhere on the globe as long as they met the Metropolitan Opera’s requirements.

We heard about these broadcasts and being opera lovers decided that in addition to our annual $100. a ticket visit to the Met at Lincoln Center in New York we would try the new HD opera format. During the 2006-2007 Met season we started to go to the HD broadcasts at the Edgewater Cineplex which certainly met the Opera’s standards.

In December of 2007 we saw our first broadcast, it was Guonod’s Romeo and Juliet and we were flawed by the close-ups of the beautiful couple in their elevated bed on their wedding night. The following year we went to see Verdi’s Macbeth, followed by Puccini’s La Boheme which we drove up to New Rochelle to see because Edgewater was sold out. This was followed by Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment, Strauss’ Salome, Berlioz’ Damnation of Faust and Massenet’s Thais. In spring 2009 we saw Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Puccini’s Madamma Butterfly, Bellini’s La Sonambula and Rossini’s La Cenentarola. Our annual Met visit was to see Puccini’s La Rondine which turned out to be a disaster because Ruth fell coming out of the elevator on the balcony level. We ended up in the Met infirmary which is also used for performers who require medical assistance. As it turned out, we were not enthralled with the opera.

In the fall of 2009 we saw Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s Aida, Puccini’s Turandot, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman. 2010 brought Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, Bizet’s Carmen, Thomas’ Hamlet and Rossini’s Armida. So far the 2010-2011 season has brought us Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Mussorsky’s Boris Gudunov, and the delightful Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Donizetti’s overture to this opera is very familiar to me and always brings tears to my eyes. That’s quite an impressive array of operas which we could never have afforded to see at the Met.

But the real performance that I want to write about is the one that takes place at every Saturday matinee HD broadcast inside the Edgewater Cineplex theater with stadium seating and digital projection capability. The admission for these performances is $22. for seniors, plus your lunch unless you want to purchase the hot dogs or pizza at excessive movie theater prices. Also you have to arrive at least an hour before the start of the performance in order to get a decent seat. 

Because these broadcasts have become so popular and so much in demand, so far the Edgewater Cineplex has only one theater that shows the broadcast, the performances really start towards the end of September when tickets become available online. This year I purchased tickets for the first two operas at 12:01 am on the day they became available. The tickets for the rest of the year were purchased at the theater shortly thereafter. At this point most 2010-2011 performances are sold out. There is an Encore performance usually at 6:30 pm on a Wednesday a few weeks later. These performances are really just as good as the live broadcasts except that the intermission features are eliminated to avoid the presentation running too late in the evening. Seats for the Encore performance are usually available. In fact Ruth and I went to see Toy Story 3 one recent Wednesday night. I didn’t care for the film and walked into an Encore performance of Carmen across the corridor without difficulty, which I watched until Ruth’s movie was finished.

You enter the theater from one of the two theater corridors which always remind me of the ones at the airport leading to your departure gate. Once inside the door you can go to the left or the right of the stadium seats. There is a walkway parallel to the screen with steps leading up and other steps leading down. This walkway holds the seats reserved for people who are handicapped, who cannot walk up or down the steps. To reach the “decent” seats you walk up, preferably the first 10 rows at the center of the theater. There are seats all the way up to an area below the projection booth, some people like to sit up there in the clouds. The seats you reach walking down are too close to the digital screen and are filled last by latecomers.

Opera lovers come early, claim the decent seats and reserve seats for friends. One sees the same opera fans for every performance with a large number of them speaking Russian. Every once in a while it’s wonderful to see  young opera lovers among the many white-haired fans. Some HD theaters have stopped allowing seats to be saved because there are a lot of late comers who are annoyed and create scenes at all the empty seats being “reserved”. Last Saturday I got up to go to the bathroom before the start of Don Pasquale and Ruth had to fight off a very indignant lady who stated that Ruth could not save my seat. After Ruth explained where her husband was, the lady walked off in a huff muttering at the injustice. But the opera audiences are mostly respectful, cellphone rings are at a minimum and a well performed aria brings applause from the theater audience in addition to the reaction at the Met.

The lights are on in the theater even though the screen might show a test broadcast from the Met Opera house. Eventually the Met HD Opera commercials and or previews come on and then the live broadcast begins with the camera showing ticket holders seated in the opera house caught by the ever present cameras followed by the traditional views of the Met’s chandeliers rising up to the ceiling while the screen counts down the time to the start of the program. Usually one of the Met’s opera stars comes on as host and introduces the opera while walking across the backstage. The backstage camera work is only seen by HD broadcast viewers, the opera house attendees only see the remote TV cameras moving under and around the edge of the stage. I always enjoy watching the elaborate intermission scene changes as huge sets slide in and out from the sides and sets descend from the Met’s multi-story backstage area.

The opera’s “host” also interviews the lead performers for the HD broadcast audience. Intermissions mean a run to the bathrooms, getting on line to buy a snack or a cup of coffee or even popcorn while the theater screen counts down the time to the restart of the broadcast.

The performance starts with the stage director’s call “Maestro to the pit”, the conductor takes his place in front of the large orchestra, bows to the house applause and raise his baton (if he uses one). Our theater opera performance has nearly ended, the Met’s is about to begin. The Met’s house lights and our theater lights dim and the performance begins with the overture.

(c) Peter Adler Fort Lee, NJ, USA

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Most Unusual Paper Bag

It was a simple paper bag with paper handles. Last week after doing our grocery shopping I approached the check-out counter at the supermarket and asked the check-out lady to put my cans of soup in “paper and plastic, please”. So she stuck the paper bag into a plastic one and filled it up with my heavy cans of soup. Yes, I know that I should be using the cloth bags that live in the trunk of my car, but I keep forgetting to bring them into the store.

So the other day after putting the cans of soup on our groceries shelf I removed the plastic bag from the paper one. The plastic bags go into my pocket when I go out to take our dog Emmy for her bathroom break walk. Need I say more? But before I folded up the paper bag and before I stored it with the other paper bags that my wife uses to recycle the many newspapers we receive daily, I decided to look at the bag more carefully. There was something about this bag that was different from all of the other paper bags we have received at the supermarket.

First of all, this bag immediately said “please hold both handles”. Not only was it polite (it said “please”) but it wanted to point out to me that it had paper handles. It was not like the other bags that have no handles and are hard to hold or carry. In addition to being polite, this bag was a “Dura Handle-Bag” which is (it told me in no uncertain terms) the original super strength handle bag! It also gave me its website address, not every common bag has that ! But it also told me that it can hold 1/6 Bbl. According to Wikipedia, “Bbl.” is the abbreviation for oil barrel which is one of several units of volume, with dry barrels, fluid barrels (UK beer barrel, U.S. beer barrel, oil barrel), etc. So it turns out that my friendly paper bag can hold 1/6 of the contents of a barrel of oil, if it wanted to. But I’m sure it would rather hold cans of soup or other groceries, oil is very messy and easily soaks through paper.

According to my paper bag’s website its creator is the Dura Bag Manufacturing Company which is located at 1600 Prospect Boulevard in Corinth, Mississippi. If you’d like to call them you can do so by dialing their toll-free number: 800-978-6783. The website also told me that “Dura Bag now Leads the Way With 100% Recycled Paper Handle Shopping Bags”, and that these Bags that look like my paper bag are “Now in Stock”. Google Satellite reveals the Dura-Bag plant as a large one level facility with lots of trailer trucks nestled around its perimeter, ready to transport Dura Bag’s merchandise. Corinth Northern Mississippi International Airport is an easy drive from the Dura-Bag plant. The Dura Bag Manufacturing Company was founded in 1953 by Mr. S. David Rose and is still privately owned by the Rose family. Charles Rose, who became President and Chief Executive Officer in 1987, now runs the company started by his father. Today, Dura Bag is the largest paper bag manufacturer in the world with a large facility in Yugoslavia.

The website also tells me that customer preferred Dura-Bag Handle Bags make the checkout counter environmentally-friendly and provides for an easier consumer carryout . They are available handle-down or their “Original” 1/6 Handle BagTM patented by Dura, this bag assures a reliable grip and a comfortable load. Plain or with customized printing in up to three colors on four sides. The paper is White, Recycled Kraft and comes in 1/6 and 1/7 Bbl. sizes. We now know what “Bbl.” means.

On further inspection I found more interesting details. My bag was made on April 20, 2010 with serial number AL43C. I don’t know what the serial number means, but the date triggers my memory because for the first eight years of my life in Germany April 20 meant a holiday, no school, parades and swastika flags and marching storm troopers because it was Hitler’s birthday. Since my bag was recycled and recycled paper can be remanufactured countless times, who knows what shredded material was used to create it, the recycled paper could even be made from memories. To testify to that fact the bag carries the three-arrow recycled symbol with the words “Recyclable, Renewable, Resource”.

But the most amazing story that my paper bag had to tell me was that it was made by Ana Fernanduez and M. Lagucha. Not only did they make the bag but they made it with “pride”! 

In trying to find out more about Ana Fernanduez I found 83 year old Esther Fernanduez who lives in Fort Campbell, Alabama and has a relative named Ana R. in Corinth, MS and an Ana who lives in Warsaw, AL. All within commuting distance from Dura Bag. According to, the trusted information source, there is also a Manuel Lagucha living in Corinth, MS. For $39.95 each, I can find out more about both Ana and Manuel. The information that will provide includes a Comprehensive Background Report from their exclusive premium databases. Included are age, possible current address, up to 20 year address history, phone numbers, bankruptcies, tax liens and judgments, property ownership, possible relatives, possible roommates, aliases / maiden names, neighbors, marriages and divorces, dea (Drug Enforcement Administration) registrants, and website ownership. So our personal privacy is worth just $39.95!

But without spending the $39.95 I already know that both Ana and Manuel are proud of the bags that they produce and probably very happy to have a job with Dura Bag. 

They are also secure in their future knowing that most environmental conscious citizens like myself leave their cloth shopping bags sleeping in the trunk of their cars when they go grocery shopping.

(c) Peter Adler Fort Lee, NJ, USA