FRED PLOTKIN is one of America’s foremost experts on opera and has distinguished himself in many fields as a writer, speaker, consultant and as a compelling teacher. He is an expert on everything Italian, the person other so-called Italy experts turn to for definitive information. Fred discovered the concept of "The Renaissance Man" as a small child and has devoted himself to pursuing that ideal as the central role of his life. In a “Public Lives” profile in The New York Times on August 30, 2002, Plotkin was described as "one of those New York word-of-mouth legends, known by the cognoscenti for his renaissance mastery of two seemingly separate disciplines: music and the food of Italy." In the same publication, on May 11, 2006, it was written that "Fred is a New Yorker, but has the soul of an Italian."
What Can Happen When an Opera Performance is Cancelled
Monday, October 31, 2016 - 10:19 AM
By now you have to know, if you are a reader of The New York Times, New York Post or social media, that this past Saturday's matinee of Guillaume Tell at the Metropolitan Opera was cancelled when an audience member scattered a powdery substance into the orchestra pit during the second intermission. Like the proverbial stone tossed into a lake, this action created waves of consequences and collateral damage that proved very destructive on many levels.
The evening’s performance, L’Italiana in Algeri, on this all-Rossini day was also cancelled because investigators had not yet determined that the powder was not dangerous to audience members or musicians. Only after tests were done could the powder be removed from the pit, where it had penetrated the instruments of several orchestra members, all of whom were not allowed to return to the pit out of concerns for their safety.
The company will offer invitations to future performances of Tell and, I imagine, to other productions to ticket holders who did not see the final performance of Italiana. These cancellations will prove very costly in financial terms and audience relations, even though what happened was not the Met’s fault
It was National Patron Weekend, with major supporters of the company from around the country converging at Lincoln Center to attend Tristan und Isolde, Jenufa, Guillaume Tell and L’Italiana in Algeri. This was a particularly unfortunate circumstance in that so many of the Met’s most important supporters were affected.
Other audience members traveled long distances, some having spent precious savings for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear Tell in the U.S. (the Met has not performed it since 1931). In addition to opera tickets, they spent money on transportation, hotels and meals.
Friends of the Rossini Festival, who were ecstatic about hearing two masterpieces by their beloved composer, consoled themselves on Lincoln Center Plaza after the show. One handed me a poster with a prescient message: "Keep Calm and Listen to Rossini."
The soloists for both operas were frustrated and disappointed. In the case of Tell, some of its finest music comes in the act that was cancelled. We would have heard Bryan Hymel stop the show with “Asile Héréditaire”
I was doing the Rossini doubleheader, attending Tell in the afternoon and planning to see the wonderful Italiana in the evening. I bought six tickets to that performance as friends from Italy were coming and it would be their first time at the Met. While I easily got a refund, the look of deflated disappointment on my friends' faces was a sad microcosm of what thousands of people experienced that day.
The latest reports indicate that the man whose actions led to all of these problems was from Dallas and the powder was the ashes of his late mentor. Based on comments I have seen on social media, he is an opera lover who is well-known to, and liked by, many singers and others in the community. I discovered that he is also a follower of my posts. His actions do not seem to be inspired by thoughts of terrorism or even malfeasance.
Tenor René Barbera, who was to have sung in Italiana on Saturday evening, posted remarks on Facebook asking that this man be spared abuse and criticism. He wrote, in part, of “A very kind, sweet, and good person who made a mistake, albeit a very expensive one ... He had no ill-intent and truly believed that his actions were nothing more than a loving gesture for a dear friend who passed away ... We all know the end result of his decision and it did have a very wide reaching negative effect. One he is immensely sorry for and one he had not even considered would have been a possibility.”
Even if this man’s actions were a product of grief or a well-meaning desire to honor someone in a special way, what he did was seriously misguided.
I was performance manager at Met in the 1980s. Part of my job was responsibility for front-of-house operations and everything affecting the audience. In 1988, I cancelled a matinee performance (after consulting with Met general manager Bruce Crawford) following the death of an audience member. One cannot move a dead body without going through certain procedures involving the police, so it was necessary to end the performance. We also had to set up for an evening performance of another opera for which some 4000 people held tickets.
This was a live radio broadcast and a complication occurred when on-air host Peter Allen, in trying to find the appropriate words without causing undue alarm, said that an audience member had taken ill. This led to hundreds of calls to the switchboard from relatives of audience members as well as journalists who were listening to the broadcast.
Thankfully, the recent situation was much more contained (there was no live broadcast and no one was ill or worse) yet still it was dramatic, in part because now social media and smartphones can create instantaneous spread of information and, at times, misinformation that can cause unforeseen problems.
On Saturday, I watched Met security and safety staff go into action during the second intermission in their discreet and highly professional way so that the audience experienced no alarm. They did everything right and have my great admiration. The same can be said for the emergency responders who arrived quickly.
As such situations do, it prompted some mordant humor. A veteran Met singer said that, when his time comes, he does not want his ashes scattered in one of his places of employment. An audience member said that if she wanted to be at the Met for all eternity she would buy a ticket for Die Meistersinger. And I seem to be the only one who has wondered whether these two Rossini operas were the right ones for spreading ashes. Wouldn’t have La Cenerentola been more appropriate?
When humor is not enough, the best approach might be to turn to music. Marianna Pizzolato, who was to have sung the title role in L’Italiana in Algeri, came on Lincoln Center plaza and stood in front of the shuttered opera house to sing a portion of “Cruda Sorte” (“Bad Luck”), Isabella’s aria of determined resolve when things go wrong.