Weekend Offers Varied Fare:
Celebration, Opera and Politics
By Edward Shanahan
It’s the weekend and there are so many offerings – out and about – and it is impossible to hit all venues. So reluctantly choices are made.
The obvious one to start with was the benefit showing of the Young at Heart documentary film soon at the Pleasant Street Theater.
Friday night found us instead at the packed ballroom of the Northampton Center for the Arts celebrating the center’s 25th anniversary, an event that often seemed unlikely to ever occur, given the fragile nature over the years of this good works enterprise.
But nearly 200 partygoers, many attired in glittering gowns, tiaras, and other emblems of a silver anniversary, were packed into the elegant third floor hall of the old high school on New South Street.
As wine flowed and platters of catered food and nibbles were quickly devoured, the O Tones kept the music coming for the dance crowd that sometimes found it hard to really let loose because of the clogged dance floor.
Raffle spoils were announced and Lisa Leizman’s dance company presented a couple of their trademark pieces at the intermission to the great pleasure of the audience, most of whom seemed to know each other from the professional and personal connections. This was a Northampton that is a generation or two younger than those who constituted the hometown movers and shakers when we came to town in 1971.
But this crowd, probably many transplants from elsewhere, were no less enthusiastic in their embrace of the center and its mission to serve and advance the place that arts should have in this community. Good vibrations were palpable in conversations entered into and overheard.
In the course of the evening I could not help but think of the late Bart Gordon, who worked tirelessly as a board member to keep the center afloat in its early years and who died at much too young an age. He would have been elated at the outpouring of revelers and the robust health of the center today. And, of course, he would be equally pleased to see the plaque on the wall of the auditorium identifying it as Bart Gordon Hall, even though many of those on hand had no notion of who Bart Gordon was.
Saturday’s event was not really a choice, but a requirement, of sorts. We traveled to Springfield Technical Community College to join more than 500 others in the Scibelli Hall gymnasium to choose two delegates, a woman and a man, to attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver as delegates pledged to Sen. Barack Obama.
While we were massing at STCC, the enemy – supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton - were gathering in Chicopee to pick their own convention delegates. Unhappily Clinton would send four delegates from the Second Congressional district to Denver because she had outpolled Obama in the February primary.
But that is ancient history now, as the Obama campaign nationwide continues to show momentum, while the Clinton candidacy is struggling.
It is hard to overstate the exuberance that marked Saturday’s Obama caucus proceedings, which were often confusing, but clearly energizing because of the din and the sheer size of the crowd jammed along the stadium seats.
And most extraordinary was the evident diversity of the Democrats on hand, Hispanics and African Americans drawn from Springfield and a smaller contingent of whites from outlying precincts like Northampton.
This was the coalition of an earlier Democratic Party before Bill Clinton as presidential candidate moved the party to the center right.
There just seemed to be so much spirit and a sense of hopefulness that I have not encountered at Democratic events for a long time.
While we and others from Hampshire County traveled to Springfield to back Northampton political activist Lisa Baskin in her bid for one delegate position, it was clear early on that was not going to happen given the number of exuberant and vocal Springfield residents who came to vote. Baskin delivered an admirable presentation of why she supports Obama, but the Springfield slate of Elizabeth Cardona and E. Henry Twiggs will go to Denver. And that is okay too.
It did not seem likely Sunday’s event would deliver the surprises and pleasures of the Obama delegate caucus, but hold on.
As we had already contributed to the First Churches roof repair fund, we thought it okay to pass on the fundraiser at the Calvin and travel across the river in quest of culture. We had earlier purchased tickets to attend the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Puccini’s “La Boheme.”
Apparently we were a little late learning of the High Definition transmission of live opera to theaters around the country, which began in 2006.
And we were almost too late in getting to the Cinemark complex. As it turns out opera fans are unusually passionate and start arriving at the theater around 2 p.m. for the 3 p.m. showing. Well before the performance began there were no seats to be found, except for the very front row.
What an eye-opening experience this was. We have attended only a few operas, and thus we were not prepared for the grandeur of this production, designed by Franco Zeffirelli, the clarity of the visual images and the quality of the sound. It was not, of course, equivalent to the experience of being in an opera house, but it has ancillary virtues made possible by technology.
For instance, there were discreet subtitles that help the opera novice follow the libretto; there was a closeup view that even the most expensive seats in an opera house cannot provide. And then there were the intermission features, the descriptions of how vast pieces of scenery are moved to change sets, the amusing interview with “La Boheme” conductor Nicola Luisotti, along with hearing singers Angela Gheorghiu and Ramon Vargas describe their roles. The oohs and aahs of the audience suggested to me that we were not alone in being stunned by the production and its overwhelming impact.
One difference, of course, is you feel a little odd sitting in a movie theater and vigorously applauding at the end of an aria or when the curtain descends on an act. After all, the performers on the screen can’t hear you or see you, but clap we and others did, testament to the power of the opera, the music, the performers and the technology that enabled it all to come to Hadley with so much beauty and to be so accessible.
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