Friday, April 27, 2007

A Night at the Opera

One thing I didn't share with all of you when I posted the other day about Phil Hughes' major league debut was that I wouldn't be watching the game live. No, my TV isn't broken, nor was I expecting a rainout of Hughes' start--I had tickets for the opera.

Yeah, you heard me, the opera. You got a problem with that?

When La Chiquita's uncle, who's an opera buff, bought us tickets for the Barber of Seville at the Met several months ago, I couldn't have imagined that the Yankees would choose the same night to unleash Phil Hughes on the major leagues. I almost hoped that the Yanks would push Hughes' start over a day when Wednesday's game was rained out--but I knew that that was just being selfish, that there's just no way the Yanks' most promising prospect should be thrown into the Yanks/Sox meatgrinder, even if it was a home game. Plus, 1) the promise of Phil Hughes debut would probably sell a few extra tickets, and therefore would be wasted in a Yanks/Sox near-sellout, and 2) the rotation sets up better with Pettitte facing Boston rather than the righty-heavy Jays lineup.

So I set the DVR and decided that, even though the opera was starting at 8:00, I wouldn't try to catch the top of the first live (it's a matter of willpower--if I'd been watching the start of the game I would have been able to peel myself away for my scheduled dose of Rossini, but I probably would have delayed enough to make us late). Since I didn't watch the beginning, I chose a "media blackout" approach, promising not to look if we passed any TVs that were showing the game, and not to look for the score on my phone. Before the performance and during intermission, I answered the phone with "Whatever you do, don't tell me what's going on in the game." I still checked my email, taking the risk that some stinker would put something like "Hughes no-hitter through five" in the subject line. I lucked out on that score. I also worried vaguely that I might pass guys, not under a similar self-imposed media blackout, taking about the game while at the Met. I needn't have worried. First of all, for someone to have spoiled the game for me, I'd have had to run into opera fans who spoke English--which, along with people under the age of 60, was pretty rare. I just don't think the cross section of opera/baseball fans is all that big--feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

[Taking things out of order, this is how the best laid plans of mice and men work out: after the opera and dinner, I get home, put on the DVR, and for some reason it starts playing from the three hour mark rather than from the beginning. So after staying away from TVs and not checking the score, the first image I see tells me that the score was 6-0 in the eighth. Grrrrr.]

Back at the Met, prior to the opening curtain, someone came up to make the announcement that, even though she would still be singing, the female lead, Joyce DiDonato was fighting a throat infection. Strange thing is, the announcement put me in my element. Someone's playing with pain, when they could just pull themselves out for an understudy--this is like sports! Then, as the conductor walked into the pit, the crowd started cheering, and didn't stop until the conductor turned and acknowledged the audience, just like Roll Call at a Yankee game. Alas, we weren't chanting "Mau Be-Ni-Ni (clap, clap, clapclapclap)" to win his wave to the crowd. I would have paid good money to see that chant get started. Then, since there are also box seats at the opera and I wasn't sitting in them, we could have finished up strong with a chant of "Box seats suck!" all before first pitch--er, I mean the opening curtain.

[Later, La Chiquita got into the sports-themed spirit of the evening, saying that the Met should really have vendors walking the aisles, ready to bring you a beer or a hot dog. What can I say, she's a woman after my own heart.]

The Barber of Seville is a great experience for someone who's not an opera expert because it's genuinely funny. All the lyrics are in Italian, but at the Met you get subtitles from a machine on the seat back in front of you. Since the lyrics are often delivered lightning-fast machine gun-style bursts, it's easy to catch the rhythm of the humor, even if you're not keeping up with the dialogue too well. Add to that a lot of physical comedy, a few self-aware digs at opera itself, and a few pieces of staging that evoked Monty Python, and you will laugh, guaranteed.

The story's simple. Count Almaviva wants to get with Rosina, a pretty girl newly-arrived in Seville. Rosina's guardian, a doctor, keeps her locked up in the house. In a creepy turn that might have been slightly less creepy in the early 19th Century, one of the reasons the doctor keeps her locked up is because he wants to marry her himself. Into this love triangle steps Figaro, the eponymous Barber...who's also a semi-pro dentist, pharmacist, wig-seller and matchmaker. Even though Figaro's feeling stressed out because everyone's putting demands on his time (that's what he's singing about in the piece from this opera just about everyone knows, sung here by George Steinbrenner favorite Robert Merril, Largo al Factotum) he takes on the wealthy Count as a client, promising to find a way to hook him up with Rosina. Hilarity ensues.

As you can probably tell, I had a great time at the Met, probably a better time than I would have had watching the Jays beat down the Yanks for the Bombers' sixth straight loss. As promised, Ms. DiDonato was a gamer, despite her hurting pipes and a nasty unscheduled spill she took in a scene where one of the characters is supposed to pull her around like a rag doll. Met newcomer Lawrence Brownlee--who resembles a much stockier Prince onstage--was great in a role that calls for an ultra-sincere lovestruck dolt one moment and over-the-top wackiness the next. Although the Count and Rosina are the protagonists, the real stars are the men playing Figaro and the Doctor--since they have to play broadly for humor, and rattle off the faster tongue-twisting arias. Russel Braun and John Del Carlo were amazing in those roles, particularly Del Carlo, who simultaneously evoked pity, loathing and humor as Dr. Bartolo.

Once I got home, I finally got to see Hughes pitch his debut. The results were ugly, but he wasn't bad--he was definitely nervous in the first inning, when it looked like he was over-gripping the ball, making for a couple of curves that came nowhere near the strike zone, and one fastball that hit the ground at least five feet in front of Jorge Posada's target. He gave up a couple of runs that inning, on a booming double over Johnny Damon's head off the bat of Vernon Wells and a nice piece of hitting by Frank Thomas for an RBI single. Still, Hughes seemed more in control of himself in the second, third and fourth before Alex Rios and Wells touched him up for another couple of runs in the fifth, and ended his night. Despite the results, it was a pleasure to watch him pitch, and it promises better things in the future.

I can't say that there was any pleasure watching the Yanks bat in last night's game, however. The Captain was out of the lineup, still bothered after getting drilled in the leg during Tuesday's game against the Devil Rays. A lineup which simultaneously carries Miguel Cairo and Doug Mientkiewicz is an aberration of nature, the kind of thing you'd think we'd be done with in the 21st Century. Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Jorge Posada all looked bad against AJ Burnett. This team is coming into the weekend set against the Red Sox ice cold.

In other news, the rainout means that, at least for the moment, Kei Igawa has been demoted from the starting rotation. I'm curious to hear what the reaction to that is in Japan. As a way-side note, Damon and Mientkiewicz were mobbed by press before the game, due to Orioles broadcaster Gary Thorne's accusation that the red spot on Curt Schilling's ankle during the 2004 ALCS was paint, not blood. Even for the Red Sox, that sounds just too stupid to be true.

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