As delightful as the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Massenet’s CENDRILLON was, which I was fortunate to have seen on opening night Thursday, the whole evening was filled with melancholy for me, because my mind drifted back to Milan in the late 1970s, when I “saw” this opera for the first time at La Scala.
My friend Grant Goodman and I were spending the summer in Italy, and Milan was the second stop on the itinerary. We had just toured the magnificent Duomo, including the breath-taking rococo steeples on the expansive rooftop, and now we were just sauntering around the plaza near La Scala. Frederica von Stade, one of Grant’s favorite singers, was appearing in a production of Massenet’s CENDRILLON, but we didn’t have tickets. Luckily, we were soon approached by a scalper who offered two tickets at exorbitant prices, even though he admitted one of the seats had “a limited view of the stage.” Grant paid no heed, and paid for the tickets.
The seats were on the last row of the uppermost balcony, and my seat, the one with “a limited view of the stage,” was actually behind a white column around which I had to shift, now left and now right, in order to catch a glimpse of what’s going on below. I soon gave up, and settled back with my eyes closed, content to just listen. Grant laughed uproariously through much of the evening. He did offer to trade seats with me a number of times, but he was enjoying the opera too much for me to deny him the full experience.
At the end of that summer, and for many years afterwards, Grant said that seeing his beloved Frederica von Stade in Massenet’s CENDRILLON In Milan was an unexpected dream come true, and that I was such a good sport to watch the whole opera with him from behind a white column on the last row of the uppermost balcony at La Scala.
At the Metropolitan Opera the other night, my seat in the center section of the orchestra was six rows from the stage. But, as delightful as the production was, as luminous as Joyce DiDonato always is, I closed my eyes, listening to the music, pretending that Grant Goodman was still sitting beside me, laughing throughout the evening, even though it has now been four years since he died and left us, and I was sad.