<< -- 3 -- Grahame Ainge WITH CALLAS IN MIND
After a refreshing sleep and an even more refreshing breakfast at the now demolished Opera Diner we went over the road to the Lincoln Center at our first opportunity. It was a gloriously sunny Sunday morning. New York was enjoying an Indian summer but the Met was shut. A security man outside gave us the opening times and shouted after us, 'We sure do like your Tony Blair.'
We picked up our tickets and made straight for the Gallery. The exhibition, by the Metropolitan Opera Guild, consisted of many photographs, prints and programmes, both autographed and unsigned as well as statues, original musical scripts and first edition scores. Although the main focus was on Maria Callas, other artists associated with the bel canto revival were also featured along with the composers of the repertoire. Since every exhibit was for sale, some had already been removed but we enjoyed browsing whilst deciding what we could buy if we didn't mind returning home penniless!
After several visits to the Lincoln Center Gallery and conversations with other opera lovers we somehow began to sense that Americans looked on Rosa Ponselle, Joan Sutherland, Lily Pons, Beverly Sills and other prominent sopranos as the equal of Maria Callas. Were we mistaken? Or was there perhaps an insular view that world-class singers who were American home-grown or loyal to US opera houses were considered on a level with, or even above Maria Callas? Then there were the portraits on the walls of the corridors of the Met itself, reflecting everyone associated with the Met apart from Maria. As an American citizen for a large part of her life and a native New Yorker up to the age of thirteen, why was this?
The week in Manhattan was unforgettable despite the real and moving images of September 11th all around us and the many, inevitably closed, famous sites. We found New York a fabulous city with a warm welcome from everyone (perhaps made more so because of the disaster): delightfully cosmopolitan: in many ways like London but with a more integrated feel and we experienced the unexpected and added pleasure of sunbathing in Central Park in 80F. The city had made such an impression on us we resolved to go back. Perhaps when we did return we could find out if our initial impression was true -- had New York forgotten Maria Callas?
Copyright © 2 December 2003
Grahame Ainge, Hertford, UK