Opera And Nfl: Sound And Fury That Signifies Fun

October 21, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Whether I watch in person or I'm sitting on the sofa, I am a fan of professional football and opera. This weekend I plan to enjoy a good dose of both. The Ravens are off, but the Cincinnati-Carolina and Washington-Indianapolis football games on TV could be worth watching. Meanwhile at the Lyric, home of the Baltimore Opera Company, I will be on hand as the Greeks take on the Turks in a performance of The Siege of Corinth. The early line favors the Turks.

I have been following professional football since I was a boy. It is a leisure-time activity that was gleefully passed along to me by my father and merely tolerated by my mother. My mother's reaction to the "greatest game ever played," the Colts' televised 1958 overtime victory over the Giants, was that it delayed our Sunday supper.

I went to my first opera about 30 years ago, dragged there by my wife. She was getting her doctorate at the University of Chicago. As happens when graduate students are working on their dissertations, my wife got keenly interested in subjects other than her dissertation. She took a class on opera appreciation and decided going to the opera was something "we" would enjoy.

The Marriage of Figaro staged by the Lyric Opera in Chicago's magnificent Civic Opera House was a good start. The music was melodious, the sets were stunning -- it rained, real water, on stage--and I sat near a fat lady, with big hair, who jumped to her feet in rapturous applause as the curtain fell. I loved it. My second opera, Elektra by Richard Strauss, left me cold.

I was 1-for-2. That happens in opera and in football: You win some, you lose some.

There are other similarities, I have found, between being a fan of pro football and opera. Tickets for both are pricey, at least $100 for good seats. In both cases, you occasionally get lucky and latch on to a last-minute freebie.

Both venues have passion and drama. If you know the story of an opera, you pretty much know what is supposed to happen. Tosca will take that fatal leap. Don Giovanni will fry. But the particulars, how the singers pull the performance off and how they sound as they deal with fate, keep you interested. Football, on the other hand, should be unpredictable. This year that has not been the case, at least when the Ravens are on offense.

There are moments watching both that make my spine tingle. Todd Heap's touchdown catch to beat the Chargers and Diana Soviero's gripping solo last March in Dead Man Walking come to mind. And there are dead spots, long delays in the action on the football field to accommodate getting the commercials on television and draggy sections in operas to allow shifts in scenery. The mind wanders.

I am told that long ago in Italy when operagoers got bored with a performance, they closed the drapes around their boxes and partied until the action on stage got more interesting. This sounds a lot like the descriptions I have heard of what goes on in some football-stadium skyboxes.

Second-guessing plays a big role in both the football and opera experiences. By halftime of the game or intermission of the opera, almost everybody has become a critic. "The running game is still stagnant," someone cracking open a beer will mutter. "The tenor is great, but the soprano is mushy," an espresso sipper remarks. Still we go back for more.

The crowd is better behaved at the opera. You do get those annoying late arrivals that, thanks to the layout of the Lyric, climb over you to get to their seats. But never once at the opera has a well-lubricated fan fallen on me. That happened to me at the Ravens-Chiefs game a few years back.

Operagoers dress better than football fans. Every once in while I see a man in a tux, a woman in a glittering gown. And although those lurid cigarette factory girls in Carmen did quicken my heart, nothing at the Lyric has captured my attention quite the way the Ravens cheerleaders do.

There is, in my experience, no equivalent for opera fans of the local sports talk radio shows. But there are the Saturday afternoon broadcasts of the Live From the Met (heard in Baltimore on WBJC 91.5 FM) and my latest indulgence, the Metropolitan Opera channel on Sirus Satellite Radio.

My hope is to combine my two joys: to watch Ravens on television with the sound turned down while listening to a live opera broadcast on radio. I am looking forward to the first Saturday in January. That is when I Puritani is scheduled to be broadcast from the Met, and when the first round of the NFL playoffs are on TV.


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