STUMP » Articles » Coronavirus Activities: Museums and Meep Explains Opera » 15 March 2020, 16:37

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Coronavirus Activities: Museums and Meep Explains Opera  


15 March 2020, 16:37

So, I’m at home for at least the next week…. and we’ll see after that.

Given the weirdness of current times, I’m going to be changing up STUMP content a little. I plan on doing some of my “classic” stuff, explaining finance, pensions, and (non-coronavirus) mortality. Hell, Taxing Tuesday will be on. Death is a piker when compared to taxes.

But because I’m having to spend some time in the house with the rest of my family, and some of y’all are also quarantined/physical-distancing…. well, let’s have a bit of fun, eh?


I did a substack-only post, with Gloria Gaynor showing you how to wash your hands, a street in Siena, Italy under quarantine and yet singing together, and some info about free opera from the Metropolitan Opera from New York.

And a couple of rock videos related to coronavirus.

So, what’s up with the substack?

It’s a way for people to get notified via email about new posts here at STUMP… and sometimes I post things there only. It’s free… and yes, it will probably try to get you to do a paid subscription [I haven’t fully tested out how that website operates].

The only thing paid subscriptions [currently] get you are the ability to comment. (Also, I get the money. But you can always buy me some tea… or something from my Amazon wishlist. Or just email me and let me know what you think: That’s totally free.)


I’m a big museum fan. I’m a member of the Wadsworth Atheneum, which is right across from where I work (usually).

Well, last week when I realized we were doing the “social distancing” thing… instead of my usual art break, I just cleaned off my desk instead.

Some art museums have been providing virtual access for years.

Some of them are simply via using Google “street view”, in which shared public photos inside the museums are viewable. Here are some pictures inside the Guggenheim.

My favorite museum in the world – The British Museum – has a virtual walkthrough on a historical timeline. Check it out!

Separately, do get off your booty and walk around a bit. And get some naps.


The Metropolitan Opera, in NYC and the largest opera house in the world has had to close live performances due to coronavirus concerns.

However, opera still lives! The Met Opera has been doing HD broadcasts to movie theaters for over a decade, and they will be providing free streaming opera for the next week (and maybe a bit longer).

Their website,, will be allowing access to one opera per day.

I’ve been a subscriber to Met Opera on Demand for some years now — it’s tough for me to get into the opera house, but more than that, D loves some operas, and I cannot take him to the opera house. I will talk about kid-friendly operas later…. because for this week, none of the operas they’ll be sharing for free is particularly kid-friendly.

March 16: Bizet’s Carmen
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna. (Originally broadcast January 16, 2010.)

March 17: Puccini’s La Bohème
Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas. (Originally broadcast April 5, 2008.)

March 18: Verdi’s Il Trovatore
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. (Originally broadcast October 3, 2015.)

March 19: Verdi’s La Traviata
Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey. (Originally broadcast December 15, 2018.)

March 20: Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. (Originally broadcast April 26, 2008.)

March 21: Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczała, and Mariusz Kwiecien. (Originally broadcast February 7, 2009.)

March 22: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin
Conducted by Valery Gergiev, starring Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. (Originally broadcast February 24, 2007.)

But they are friendly to the opera newbie. I’m an amateur – a lover of the art – and I have no deep, technical knowledge. I just know the stuff one picks up from being an avid opera viewer, and enjoying it in so many ways over a few decades now.


The Met is leading with Carmen, which is an excellent choice — it’s fairly short (though 4 acts), it’s sexy (and DRAMATIC), and it’s got some extremely catchy and famous music:

That is one of the very memorable songs (pardon me, arias…. but I’m calling it a song. It’s even got choral backup. It’s a song.) Heck, I first heard the song on Sesame Street back in the 1970s, when it was an orange singing:

(are oranges allowed to be sexy?)

Anyway, the video I shared above is from the specific recording they will be sharing, so you can get an idea of what it will be like.


I will do this two ways. First, in video:

And second, in text, which is going to be a few bits different.

I don’t know what the viewing experience will be like for those of you who are not subscribers. I assume they’re going to give you a similar viewing experience as I get as a subscriber, because it would be simpler.

Two things of utmost importance:

1. The opera is in French, and even if you are fluent in French, you may want to turn on the subtitles, because operatic performance is very different from the spoken word. Heck, I have to turn on subtitles for English language operas.

2. Know the story before you watch an opera. The point is not to be surprised by the plot – you can’t spoil an opera, not really. The point is to experience the full sensory situation, but the most important bit is enjoying the performance, especially the music.

So here’s the story. This is the official synopsis from the Met Opera, but I’m going to nutshell it even more brutally than the Met does in its explanations.

Carmen is the story of a love triangle. Okay, it’s a love polygon, kind of… but we care about two characters only, and everybody else is to the side. The title character, Carmen, is sex personified, and she uses her sexual attractiveness for all sorts of ends. She does fall in love with the other main character, Don Jose, but a big part of why she falls in love with him is because he ignores her while all the other guys are panting over her. (Ain’t that the way).

She entices other men, doesn’t quite get along with women (because she’s Queen Bee), gets in trouble with the authorities, seduces her way out of imprisonment, gets Don Jose caught up with a bunch of bandits, one things lead to another, and the person who had been an upstanding soldier in the Spanish military has devolved into an outlaw due to his infatuation with Carmen.

Carmen is not the type to stay true to one man… especially if the man has fallen down in status. She’s used up Don Jose. So now she goes for the celeb of the hour, the bullfighter Escamillo, and we get a bombastic song for him with chorus. (The famous toreador song)

Don Jose is hella jealous, and ends up killing Carmen while Escamillo fights a bull.

Yeah, that got serious rather rapidly.



A minor thing I didn’t mention above: Carmen is in the style of opera comique (which does not mean it’s a funny opera) — the main point of that is there is spoken, not sung, dialogue.

The issue is that it takes a long time to sing anything. If you want to hurry along the plot, you may need some dialogue, and if you think arias (a single person singing) are repetitive and take a lot of time, duets are even more so. Later in the week, there will be operas where everything is sung, but we’re not quite there yet.

The point is that the singing – the arias, duets, ensembles, choruses, etc. – is more to express a mood.

For all one might think that opera is highly complicated, intellectual exercise… there may be some operas like that, but pretty much all the operas chosen for this first week of free opera are just aiming straight for your heart (or your gonads), bypassing your brain. Tuesday’s opera, La Boheme… well, I’ll explain my reaction to that the first time I saw it long ago.

I have had the great good fortune to actually attend opera at the Met … and at New York City Opera, when it was still very active. I’ve had thrilling experiences, and I’m gonna tell you, it wasn’t because I studied hard ahead of time (to be sure, once I had a bad opera experience there because I didn’t even do minimal preparation…. but I’m here to give you a little-more-than minimal prep.

In the video above, I demonstrate how Met Opera on Demand operates for me, and how to find the “good bits” if you don’t want to attempt the whole opera and just want to get to the stuff you know.

That said, I highly recommend watching the whole opera… it’s an immersive experience.

And even though you’re not in the opera house (and man, you really can feel it in your intestines sometimes), what with high quality sound systems and TVs at reasonable price, you will likely get a great experience…. and there’s something about the music washing over one.

And then you will find the famous “good bits” are not necessarily the particular moments that move you. It is weird to explain, and it doesn’t happen for every opera for me (and it’s dependent on the performance), but there can be a moment – just a few seconds of music – that just encapsulate the whole thing for you. In general, you have to watch the whole thing to catch that moment.


Carmen is 4 acts long. In the recording I have, Renee Fleming interviews people in the production between acts, and sometimes they show you the scenery change. Act breaks are natural places to pause the video, get yourself a snack, refresh yourself, wash your hands, slather some lotion on your hands from all the hand-washing, etc.

Carmen is relatively short — the recording they’re releasing is less than three hours. Even so, many of us are cooped up inside right now, so get up and move around.

It sounds like they’re doing the stream the way they do it in theaters, so there will be no breaks for the initial stream at 7:30pm ET. But after that, it sounds like it will be available in the way I watch the videos. I am not sure, and will have to test it out.

In the meantime, you can join me on facebook Monday night for a watch party!

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