September 23, 2008
The Mysteries of Times Square, Part III
The Metropolitan Opera goes jumbo.
Last night I took the subway up to Columbus Circle to check out the new Museum of Arts and Design (the old Huntington Hartford redone by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works) by night. I was hoping for an ethereal glow, but didn’t get one. Not quite. After sitting for a bit at the foot of the Columbus statue in the middle of the circle, an unexpectedly peaceful spot, I strolled down Ninth Ave., ate the red snapper enchiladas and drank a margarita at Hell’s Kitchen, and decided to walk at least part of the way home.
As I ambled east on W.44th St., I could hear a man singing opera. I figured that it must have been opera night at Carmine’s, the tourist-pleasing Italian restaurant. But when I entered Times Square I noticed that a block of Broadway was crammed with folding chairs, and the chairs were at least partly occupied by people with their heads tipped back. The image of an opera singer filled perhaps a half dozen big screens including two on 1 Times Square, one above the NASDAQ sign, one on the ABC marquee. And the music filled the south end of the Bowtie. I stopped for a few minutes, leaned on a mailbox, and listened.
As it turns out, this was a broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala. It’s the third time it’s been presented in Times Square, and it was also piped in to movie theaters around the country. The Met presented portions of three different operas, La Traviata, Manon, and Capriccio.
What was extraordinary was not the visuals but the acoustics. The singing magically blanketed the most frenetic spot in New York. People who would never ordinarily even slow down in Times Square stopped moving, and stopped talking, and listened. It was a lesson in the power not just of opera, but of sound. It was a demonstration of what could happen if we took the soundscape of the urban environment as seriously as we take its visual qualities.