Going to The Metropolitan Opera is an experience of glamour so out of the realm of our daily life it feels like a fantasy; you’ve entered another world. Reds, golds, shimmering starburst chandeliers, the vastness of the hall, beautifully attired women (at least in the orchestra), and the electricity as the audience rejoices at an aria. And to see and hear Tosca with all its drama of music, love, jealousy, murder, passion, patriotism, cruelty, and sensuality can make your heart beat faster than your “Bravos.”
No sooner had we ordered tickets to Tosca, we began fretting about the logistics of it all. We discussed dinner options; in past years, our go-to dinners out before opera or ballet had been Picholine (now shuttered) or Café des Artistes (now The Leopard at des Artistes), both of which were always fabulous albeit expensive. P.J. Clarke’s close by Lincoln Center or Shun Lee West a good walk away were other favorites.
It would make our lives so much easier if we ate in-house, my husband said. “Remember the time we raced along 67th Street in a downpour and had to sit with soggy shoes and wet coats through three acts of operatic fire?” Okay, so I booked a table at The Grand Tier.
How was the night? Beautiful. Although I sorely missed Zeffirelli’s sets, the music and voices could still lift one’s spirits. Domingo was not conducting as originally scheduled but Paolo Carignani did a commendable job after he got his bearings in the second act, as did the singers. Tenor Roberto Aronica did not make my heart skip in the first act but subsequently his E lucevan le stelle brought resounding applause from the grateful audience. Soprano Angela Gheorghiu, stunning in black and seductively gorgeous in red, hit stride in the second and third acts with arias that were heartfelt. She was a wrenching Tosca: fragile, anguished, shocked at her strike at Scarpia, horrified at his duplicity and the execution of her beloved Cavardossi. It was an effort to take our minds off the set of the Church of Sant’ Andrea, however. You wonder how Cavardossi could have imagined the colors for his Madonna in such a dark, dreary, dismal dungeonlike space.
The Grand Tier, on the other hand, was so plush you felt coddled as you sank into one of those banquets that sinuously wind their way around tables. What a grand surprise to find The Grand Tier looking freshened up. We sat between the fabulous Chagall painting hogging one wall and the equally huge windows overlooking the fountain in the plaza.
We did our usual routine: appetizer and main course before the curtain rises on the first act, and then dessert during intermission. The food has consistently been good in the past and now it is stretching for — and achieving — a higher plateau. A mixed-greens salad graced by gossamer slices of red and yellow beets dressed just so with a perfect vinaigrette was shared by the four of us, helped by tasty bread and rolls. Mains of rabbit pappardelle blessed with truffles and mushrooms, lamb in a luscious sauce, swordfish special over black rice, and grilled salmon with a panoply of roasted vegetables were all delicious. Surprisingly, our meal did not make us drowsy nor did that luscious Mordecai from the Banshee winery that charmed us from the first sip.
We were back in the dining room for dessert. I love the orchestration of this interlude: the tables had been cleared and reset for dessert, the sweets were at the ready to be served immediately, water glasses refilled, espresso poured. Our waiter Todd was all smiles, ready to pull out chairs for us as we approached our table. Darkness had descended outside and opera house was shimmering in golden light. As we picked up forks and spoons to delve into an apple cobbler and a cappuccino gateau nipped with espresso mousse and a smidgen of cocoa coulis, Todd presented a plateful off cookies. We could not have asked for more beauty, neither on the plates or on the stage.