Broadband, Baritones, Opera & Living in the Middle of Nowhere, USA

Photo by - Michael Pöhn
Photo by – Michael Pöhn

I still don’t take modern technology for granted.  That, if anything, should date me has having been born way before the Digital Age. I am, though, a product of the Space Age.  One of the most awesome (as in awe) aspects of having grown up watching our modern world evolve, is watching technology develop.  I can remember, back in the mid 1980s, I wanted a computer.  I did not want one of those annoying monsters we now call a desktop. I wanted a laptop.  I had to argue hard and fast about it, because they just weren’t being sold. They were using them in the shuttle program.  At one of the early launches, I picked up contractor information about the ones they were using.  I had to use the press information to show the guys a the local Radio Shack that yes, they did exist.  I bought one of the first lap-tops put out by Tandy. It ran on two ‘hard disks’.  You would change disks in order to do different things on it.  It had a grand total of 8MG of disk space.  No, not RAM.  My next system was just a little word processing notebook, that actually held upward of 200MG of storage space.  I wrote my first novel on it.  My next system, an NEC, had 260MG of space.  Please note that we’re not talking RAM here.  Finally, I was able to upgrade to another NEC, where I could get 1MG of RAM, 500MG of space, and most importantly, I could use a modem card.  I was then required to go through MCI, where each online session would appear on my bill.  I was getting all of 15Kpbs.  It was enough for me to be able to research melanoma, download and print out the information I needed, and to join my first forum.  It may have been a snail’s crawl, but I learned enough to save my life. When I moved to New Mexico, I was able to get dial-up speed of 56Kpbs.  I was in Nirvana! It is at this point it should be noted that PVT Telecom out of Roswell, still only provides a speed of about 126Kbps where my mother lives, and where I want to build. For this, they charge as much as I am paying for (allegedly) 12Mbps.  That, though, is a different rant and rave.  I think it may have been on Monday.

I was not able to get broadband until 2004.  It is something I do not take for granted.  I can’t.  When you live where I do, or do a bit of traveling, you soon realize how iffy quality broadband service is.  We now live in a country where libertarians threaten to over-run our world, and demand that only the strong survive, leaving the rest of we the little people wallowing in the gutter, while they kick us.  This nation needs a broadband infrastructure the way we allegedly have a highway and telecommunication infrastructure. If we are indeed entering into a new digital age, then those of us, who live in the middle of nowhere – and pay a mountain of taxes, just like those who live in cities – are being left behind, very quickly. Everyone in this country should have access to true broadband.  Unfortunately, we do not.

When I stay with my mother, I do not have access to something as remarkable as a live, webcast from Vienna.  I don’t even  have viable access to the Metropolitan Opera on Demand.  Oh, I do, but, the cost is so high at $10/GB via Verizon, that it is not possible to use it.  Neither are any of the movie download sites, with streaming.  Forget about even downloading a movie from iTunes.  The cost of that fiasco is also $10/GB via Verizon.  Forget about even opening a business in an area where there is no viable broadband.  I can’t even work on edits of my fashion book.  This nation is soon going to have yet another great divide – those with viable broadband, and those who do not have access.  Those who do not have access will be left behind, trust me.

If you haven’t picked up on it, yet (duh) I am an opera freak.  I also happen to be a self-confessed baritone junkie.  Okay, I’m a baritone freak, potential stalker (safe, pathetic, not dangerous), groupie, fanatic, and so forth and so on.  The greatest of them all, Sherrill Milnes, once told me I had so many autographed photos of him, I have enough to wallpaper my bathroom.  For the record, I only have two. But, I think it does prove my point.

Over the years, I’ve seen some of the greatest opera has ever produced – live:  Sherrill Milnes, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Renata Scotto, Jerome Hines, Leontyne Price (rehearsal), Robert Merrill, Birgit Nilsson,  Régine Crespin, James Morris, Samuel Ramey, Hildegard Behrens, Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Krause, Cornell MacNeil, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Thomas Hampson, Tatiana Troyanos, Paul Plishka, and so forth and so on.  I was there at the Met, the night of Milnes and Domingo’s legendary concert. I saw Pavarotti at least a half dozen times. I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen Domingo.  As for Milnes, let’s just say when he did a recital here in NM, near where I live, he wanted to know what on earth I was doing – there.  I told him I lived about 10 miles from the theater.

But – I’ve never even seen the baritone who put the hunk in barihunk, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, live, even on screen – until today.  When you live in the middle of nowhere, USA, you don’t even have access to the Met’s Live in HD.  The nearest theater for me is a good 3 hour drive.  Once upon a time, I had 2nd row, season tickets at the Met, flying back and forth from SC to NYC at least twice a month during the opera season.  Today, I refuse to even consider flying.

The problem with not being able to see someone perform, live is that you don’t really know who they are.  You get to know an artist through their work, a writer through their books.  In order to understand who an opera singer is, you need to see them perform, in an opera, live.  Finally, I was able to watch Hvorostovsky.

It’s like this, he compares very favorably to Sherrill Milnes.  I’ve seen video, YouTube, and Met on Demand of his Live in HD performances.  It isn’t the same.  They are edited.  You don’t see all the nuances. Like Milnes, he dominates the stage.  During curtain calls, you learn a lot, watching how performers leave, the order in which they do, how they interact.  Once again, it is total control of the stage.  As far as curtain calls, the man is amazingly gracious.  Perhaps he is the most gracious performer I’ve seen, and, like I said, I’ve seen many of the greats.

Daniele Abbado’s production of Don Carlo at the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) was interesting, inoffensive, but interesting.  I’m a purist.  I want costumes which are as accurate as possible, but, then, again, I’m a fashion history person.  The costumes were, well, they were inoffensive.  Hvorostovsky wore ‘the shirt’.  When a baritone wears ‘the shirt’ we know the production is going to respect women.

Something else I’ve noticed, aside from the 2nd greatest baritone voice I’ve ever heard (Milnes being the greatest) the man can act. I thought the sight of Sherrill Milnes, as Don Giovanni, doing an Errol Flynn, flying across the stage at the end of the first act was the ultimate. Watching Hvorostovsky’s Rodrigo being shot, hitting the stage, and his death scene was even better – exhausting, draining, but better.

Stefano Secco – Don Carlo
Ferruccio Furlanetto – Phillip II
Maria Pia Piscitelli- Elizabeth
Béatrice Uria-Monzon – Eboli
Eric Halfvarson – Grand Inquisitor
Marco Armiliato – Conducting

The best news for a baritone junkie like moi, is that Dmitri Hvorostovsky is going to be doing Don Carlos at the Met in just a few weeks. My favorite baritone, my favorite Verdi role, my favorite Verdi opera – I’m happy.