Opening Night at the Opera and Museum Sickness

Last year when I attended the Salzburger Festival by myself, I wondered how the glitz and glamour compared with our backyard gala. I satisfied my curiosity when we attended the opening night of the 94th season of the San Francisco Opera last night. The glitz and glamour were definitely there, but in limited supply.

Here are a couple of pre-opera performance shots:

Nevertheless, the SF Opera House is always an exciting and beautiful venue to visit. Thanks to Dede Wilsey, the grand dame of arts in San Francisco, the lobby was decked out in a magnificent red, white and blue flower arrangement and the interior of the opera house was draped to reflect the French theme of “Andrea Chenier”.

While it holds over 3,000 seats, the opera house is on the order of NY Met’s capacity at 3800 seats. The Semperoper in Dresden is half that size, with only 1500 seats and Vienna is similar to Dresden’s with 1700 seats. The SF Opera still feels more intimate and reminiscent of the European opera houses because of its Beaux Arts design than the Met’s spartan Sixties Modern style.

The only difference between Opening Night and other performances, aside from excitement in the air and a bit of a Halloween-like “dress like someone else you always wanted to be” atmosphere, were two distinguishing marks. There were speeches beforehand by the President of the Board and an introduction to the new General Manager of the SF Opera. It felt a bit like going to a Chinese wedding, where you had to sit through two hours of speeches before getting food. Fortunately, it lasted only ten minutes or so.

Before the performance, we sang the Star-Spangled Banner. That was another first for me, at least at an opera performance. I couldn’t help but think about Colin Kapernick and the debate he has aroused from this simple tradition. I snuck a look around the room and behind me to see if anyone had the courage to protest. But no, everyone complied.

You probably can’t tell from the photos, but the photographer has taken painstakingly edited views of the evening. We have our own distinct American style of casualness and innovation that needs to be appreciated. Nevertheless, I’m making plans to return to Salzburg as soon as I can. The schedule of events is announced in March next year.

Andrea Chenier is an opera about the French Revolution sung in Italian. Younghoon Lee was the star of the evening. He replaced Jonas Kaufman as Don Jose in “Carmen” at the NY Met last year. While Lee’s voice is very powerful and technically impressive, I felt that he still lacked the performance quality and passion that I enjoyed in Kaufmann’s performances.

Many of you may be wondering where I have been since returning from our third world trip. I finally got organized and signed up as a full time City College of San Francisco student! It has been a bit of a jolt realizing that there are so many bureaucratic steps to getting recognized as an individual with unique needs. I had forgotten that UC Berkeley had taught me how to be a master of administration, and not necessarily a master of any academic pursuit.

Still, the old battle skills kicked in. I managed to get signed up for figure drawing, Intermediate German, and two cinema classes. It’s probably over the top and overcommitting myself, but that seems to be my style these days.

I decided to try the local city college approach to language training for a variety of reasons. Arriving at a class of over 40 students was a bit disarming, I’d have to admit. After sorting out various levels and stages of German language training, the instructor assured us that she could manage. She adeptly split us into 4 groups. Two for beginners, two for intermediate.

Each group is subdivided into “academic” and “practical” students. She whizzed her way through the system and found another classroom, where she toggles between two groups of students in each room. Like the star of “Bewitched”, she magically flies between rooms giving instructions to each and sprinkles “can do” grammar dust on us in between. It strangely works, at least for the time being. Admittedly, this is an extreme switch from the clockwork 12 students in Germany or the monastic tutorial. More on this method to madness later.

In one of the cinema classes, I am writing a “how to” film script. I decided to do mine on “museum sickness”. A certain close friend is afflicted with this strange phenomenon that strikes unfailingly each time we go to a museum. It miraculously subsides once we are about a mile away and well outside the possibility of ever returning to the premises. Some of you may wonder why I coin “travels with myself…”…and now you have a pretty good idea.

Doing a bit of online research has been fascinating and entertaining. My topic, “how to avoid Museum Sickness” is derived from information I collected from the museums I visited in the past year, such as:

1. The Dresden Hygiene Museum, where they offer portable stools for visitors.
2. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, that displayed a curious chair known as the Stendhal Chair” for museum goers to decompress when being overwhelmed. A variation of a confessional, this chair has a flip door in front of the seat so you can sit down and avoid eye contact with others when you are seated inside! (You may have seen this earlier in January 2016 when Melissa and I were in Amsterdam)

The Stendhal syndrome is a defined condition related to becoming disoriented while in a museum. Apparently Mark Twain experienced this phenomenon when traveling by ocean liner across the Atlantic to Europe, then immediately going to one of the famous museums. He became dizzy and sick from the overstimulation.

Another version of museum sickness is called “synesthesia”, a condition of mixed sensations–where one modality affects another, such as audial effects transferring to visual, or from form to color. I wondered how prevalent this condition was or whether it was purely hypothetical in nature. Obviously, more research will bear this out. In the mean time, I am completing my assignment in script format. Get your fancy dress ready to attend the Oscars!

Since my posts are down to monthlies until I am traveling again, I’ll keep you posted on my educational progress. I hope all of you continue to live and learn, to keep the fire burning in the attic…

2 thoughts on “Opening Night at the Opera and Museum Sickness”

  1. Wonderful post. Very intrigued to read about the museum sickness 🙂 Learned a lot about the differences in cultural consumptions around the globe… Cannot wait to read your next post.


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