box to can: nature's call at the opera

A few years ago while I was working in Raleigh, NC at NC LIVE, my boss Tim told me something most bosses won't ever tell you.

You're not good about taking vacation.

He didn't mean I took too much time off, but too little. He meant that I needed to take care of myself and not fall prey to the obsessive grind I'm wired to get myself into.

But at the time the reality was this: I was too sick to use vacation for recreational purposes and needed to save it as a type of sick leave.

Now, thanks to some dietary changes, I've been immensely better the last couple of years.

So I started thinking about taking vacations.

In 2016-2017, I went to Philadelphia twice. Great town and the art museum is really great as is the Mütter Museum. But I fell back into the trap of walking around aimlessly until something caught my eye and let me occupy my time.

Last year, I decided to travel in order to see something specific.

And what better to see than opera? And what better opera house in the USA than the Met?

I can fly into NYC for a night or two, catch the act, and spend the last day in my traditional aimless fashion – i.e. getting hopelessly lost in Central Park walking back to my Upper West Side hotel after visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, slightly delirious from fatigue and a lack of nourishment.

In April 2018, I went to the Met and saw Joyce DiDonato in Massenet's Cendrillon. In September, I returned to see Elīna Garanča in Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila with its incredible set and lascivious dance routine for the bacchanale.

And this past April, I saw the opera I'd see if I could only see just one.

Wagner's Siegfried.

The production was the same one I mentioned before, using large digital display panels.

One of my box mates told me some reviews had been critical of the fact that, sitting up close, one can hear the clang of the panels as they are moved around to form various shapes.

But he and I agreed: it actually worked. Even during the overture, hearing that mechanistic metal moving just added to the ambiance. We're talking about gruff sword-and-sorcery stuff here, folks. This ain't Haydn.

Now let me get to the real point of this post: seating and bathroom breaks.

When I bought tickets for Cendrillon, I knew I wanted to soak in the experience and sit in a box. I sat in the Parterre, Box 1, Seat 3.

My main concern was what to do if I needed to leave during the performance to use the restroom. This is probably a concern for lots of folks like me who look "normal" but have underlying health concerns that don't always play well will staying seated for 1+ hours at a time.

According to the Met's website at the time, one could only leave during intermission. As far as getting in during the performance, that would be the conductor's discretion (say, if there are extended applause and a clear need to let people in).

In other words, I was a little worried. But when I asked for clarification, the usher sang her own sweet Music to my ears: being seated on the Parterre level – and only the Parterre – means you can get up and leave at will. And they will let you back in whenever you want.

No surprise then that I decided to only buy Parterre seats from then on.

Tickets on the edge boxes (Boxes 1, 2) go for about $200 or less. That's much less then those in the center. Sure, you can't see some things on stage if the action is on the far corner of the side on which you're sitting, but you can see into the orchestra pit and you also get a great view of the rest of the audience.

None of the seats I've had in the Parterre are "comfortable" – they're like old dining chairs. But I'm focused on the Music, so it's OK.

I mentioned that I sat in Parterre, Box 1, Seat 3 for Cendrillon. That's also where I sat for Samson et Dalila. For the Wagner, my seat was already sold, so I sat across the room in Box 2, Seat 4.

There's one important difference: for the Wagner I was seated in the back row of the box, unlike the previous two operas where I was in the front row.

The back row was actually more comfortable because there was a platform for me to rest my feet on. And I didn't have any visibility issues in terms of people in front of me.

I'll be sitting in the back row from now on if I can.

I would advise anyone who has similar concerns as me to also choose a back row since you won't disturb your box mates if you need to leave/return during the performance.

I would advise against sitting in the center seat of either row. By sitting on the left or right chair, you can more easily get in and out of the door.

Mostly, I'd recommend anyone like me contact the Met. Their customer service is good. You can just tell them your situation. They can probably even tell you which way the box door opens so that you can pick the seat that allows you to slide in and out of the door most easily.

In fact, I'd recommend this for any place you want to attend. The Met's website lacked the information about being able to freely move in the Parterre. So it stands to reason that other venues might also have exceptions that aren't noted on their websites.

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