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Oct 10, 2017 10:46 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Victoria Bond Helps Kick Off Guild Hall's Season Of Met Opera In HD

A scene from Mozart's
Oct 12, 2017 1:22 PM

The lights dim, a hush falls over the crowd and they settle back into their seats, ready for a world-class performance. As the curtain rises, the stunning sets come into view, a costumed cast of singers takes the stage, the diva appears and the first notes are sung.

With that, The Met’s opera season has officially begun. But this audience is not at Lincoln Center, rather they are sitting 100 miles away, in the comfortable confines of Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater in East Hampton.

Welcome to The Met: Live in HD, a popular program that beams The Metropolitan Opera’s productions live onto the big screen in hundreds of performing arts venues and movie houses around the country and the world.

On Saturday, October 14, The Met: Live in HD kicks off its 2017-2018 season with Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote,” conducted by James Levine with production design by Tony Award-winner Julie Taymore. Here on the East End, Guild Hall is the only place one can see Met operas broadcast live. But that wasn’t always the case, as Josh Gladstone, artistic director of the John Drew Theater, explained.

“I heard about the series when it first launched about five years ago. It got a lot of press,” recalled Mr. Gladstone in a recent phone interview. “And I wondered if we could do it here.”

The answer was “yes.” All Guild Hall needed to do was install a couple of satellite dishes on the theater’s roof—which it did, with approval from East Hampton Village, of course. But not long after Guild Hall was up and running The Met: Live in HD, the United Artists cinema down the road in East Hampton began offering Met productions.

“We flipped,” Mr. Gladstone said. “We’re in the same neighborhood.”

It turns out that Regal, which owns United Artists, had a huge contract with The Met to broadcast around the country—so Mr. Gladstone said Guild Hall faced the competition head on. Guild Hall offered free wine from nearby vineyards and wine shops along with nice sandwiches to make the night at the opera something special.

“We beat the Regal. Audiences came to Guild Hall,” Mr. Gladstone said. “It’s a prettier venue and a nicer event. Opera people have a formality to them. They came dressed up.”

Within a couple of years, the East Hampton cinema gave up broadcasting The Met’s operas altogether, but Mr. Gladstone is happy to note that the wine and sandwiches are still an integral part of the Guild Hall pre-opera experience.

It turns out Guild Hall is also able to offer something else unique with its broadcasts—an expert. Professional composer and conductor Victoria Bond, an East Hampton resident, gives pre-opera talks, and this Saturday, prior to the broadcast of “Die Zauberflote,” she will present “Mozart in His Own Words.”

“Mozart was on the road all the time—first, with his parents and then on his own,” said Ms. Bond during a recent interview at her home. “He wrote letters to his father and his cousin describing what was going on in his life. It was a wealth of perspectives about opera singers, various situations, cheap hotels, and the musicians he was hanging out with.

“He liked having a good time and hanging out with the musicians,” she continued. “He fell in love with singers. There was one singer in particular he loved, but she didn’t love him, so he married her sister, Constanze.”

There is some truth behind Mozart’s party boy reputation and Ms. Bond explained that the composer had a wicked sense of humor—sometimes practically X-rated.

“I never know my audiences’ reaction, so it will be edited,” Ms. Bond said. “Mozart was very articulate. I guess he could have been a writer if he had not been so busy putting notes on a page.”

He also liked inside jokes. In one of Mozart’s operas the soprano was the girlfriend of his librettist. Mozart didn’t like her—she had an irritating habit of lifting head on high notes and on lowering it when the notes went down.

“So he wrote an aria where the notes go up and down constantly and she looked like a chicken,” Ms. Bond said.

In addition to giving audiences a glimpse of the personal lives of composers like Mozart, in her talks at Guild Hall Ms. Bond also strives to help them gain a deeper understanding of the music and storyline by discussing the nuances and drama inherent in the opera. Using a keyboard, she demonstrates her points so people will recognize the selection when watching the opera on the big screen.

By way of example, Ms. Bond points to Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio.” In one scene, the heroine, Leonore, disguises herself as a prison guard in order to visit her husband, Florestan, a political prisoner who is being held in a dungeon.

“There’s an overture, you hear her descending into this dungeon and the fear and anticipation,” Ms. Bond said. “So I’ll play this on the piano—it’s a black and white picture of what the orchestra plays. The descending notes and slow tempo, she doesn’t know what she’s going to find and is not sure of his state. There’s fear and anticipation at seeing him, not joy.”

She said she wants the audience to understand how the music is telling the story. “There are certain basic things to look for, such as tempo. If music is faster than our heartbeat, it’s exciting. If it’s really fast, it can be agitating, anxiety provoking or anticipatory.

“Slower music is relaxing and tranquil—and that cuts across all cultures,” she added. “Mostly, I talk about the music and make salient points about how the great opera composers were able to encapsulate the personalities of their characters in notes.”

The goal is to make the talks interesting and informative, both for people who are opera aficionados, as well as those who may be hearing their first opera.

“It’s the best introduction you could have to opera. You get a $200 seat for $20,” Ms. Bond said. “The productions are great at Guild Hall. Everywhere else, they’re shown in a movie theater. But Guild Hall is a real theater. There are no bad seats, you have boxes with good sight lines and it’s intimate.

“But it’s still live and things can happen.”

Guild Hall’s opera season opener, “Mozart in His Own Words,” with Victoria Bond begins at noon on Saturday, October 14, and includes a breakfast reception. Tickets are $30, or $28 for Guild Hall members and free for opera donors. The Met: Live in HD, Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote” follows at 1 p.m. Tickets are $22, or $20 for members, and $15 for students. Visit guildhall.org or call 631-324-4050. Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street, East Hampton.

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