On Thursday morning I woke up in New York’s East Village with my head buzzing softly. I had been out the night before drinking Rye whiskey in Hell’s Kitchen and dancing to 1970s Soul Train footage at a notorious East Village bar near 2nd & 2nd. After water, caffiene, and a layover in Chicago, I was throwing on a black linen pinstripe zoot suit, spritzing myself with John Varvatos vintage and running out the door, shoes & tie in hand, to climb into a classic black mercedes that was waiting outside. I was on my way to the first performance in the Theoroi Project‘s inaugural season: MN Opera’s production of Cosi fan Tutte. A friend who knows opera far more intimately than me had provided memorable instructions for the night. “I heard the cast is smokin’ hot. Bring binoculars.”
The mezzanine of the Ordway lobby was packed for the pre-show “opera insights”, in which the Musical Director of the MN Opera gave some background about the performance we were about to see. The crowd laughed along to bon mots like “What a surprise! The soprano falls in love with the tenor!” Whatever that means. I was busy trying to spot the 24 theoroi speckled throughout the crowd. We specifically invited participants who predominantly aren’t arts insiders, so it was no surprise that they all gravitated to sitting in the back row, standing along the balcony, and availing themselves of the bar.
When the crowd started moving to their seats in the theater, our theoroi class gathered, many of them meeting for the first time. You will all have to see for yourselves, but let me tell you – this is a very engaging and very good looking crew.
We found our seats, the curtains opened, and out came the binoculars. Have you ever tried sharing a single pair of binoculars between 24 near-strangers sitting silently in the dark? In the second scene, when the two beautiful female leads first arrived on stage, all the men wanted the binoculars back. I wanted to admire the costumes. The guys on either side of me seemed to have other motives.
There’s a moment in the first act where Fiordiligi sits in the garden, torn between her feelings and her responsibilities. As Jacquelyn Wagner sang the aria, alone on stage, it was like the laws of gravity had been redefined. Everything seemed to pull in towards the spot on the stage where she reclined. As I looked around the packed theater I felt a distinct sense of place, time and beauty. People often talk about the ineffability of real beauty. That certainly applies here. I can’t explain the sensation, but I expect that my left and right brain were both lit up like christmas trees at that moment. I began to reflect on the fact that thousands of people have been experiencing moments like this for hundreds of years in opera houses like the Ordway. That continuity is certainly a part of why I support the arts.
At that moment, someone started futzing with a very loud candy wrapper about 2 rows up and 8 seats over. When the noise persisted, heads started to turn, someone “ssshed”, and the noise continued. As it turns out, that beautiful aria is quite long. Our candy wrapper enemy persisted through the entire thing. She was too far away for us to do anything. I fantasized about designing iPhone apps that let you report noisemakers to the ushers. At intermission, our entire section was fuming.
After the show, the theoroi had drinks and snacks at Amsterdam, which was recently launched in downtown St Paul by the owners of the 331 club. To our delight, Jacquelin Wagner (Fiordiligi), Jennifer Holloway (Dorabella) and Matthew Worth (Gugliermo) joined us briefly. They were all friendly, charming, and beautiful. I hope that they had fun meeting our inaugural class of theoroi.