Apr/May 2022  •   Travel

Singing and Swinging

by Alice Lowe

Upcycled, mixed media artwork by Keely Jane

Upcycled, mixed media artwork by Keely Jane

On a Tuesday night in May of 2005, my husband and I walked from our Midtown Manhattan budget hotel to Lincoln Center and entered the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Opera. We climbed several flights of stairs to our balcony seats, where we had a direct sight line to the famed "sputnik" chandeliers. The stage was at a distance, but our binoculars brought everything close. We admired the magnificent auditorium and the spectacle of posh patrons in the elite seats below, showing off their finery, seeing and being seen. Then the lights dimmed and the audience hushed; the conductor entered, raised his arms, and signaled the opening downbeat. The curtain rose, and there I was, taking in the elaborate sets and costumes and the uncompromised sound—the lush tones of tenor Roberto Alagna and silver-maned phenom baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the flesh—in a performance of Gounod's Faust. We came away basking in the afterglow, reveling in the virtuosic singing and stirring drama, the magical milieu of the Met itself.

The next day, after walking for a while up Central Park, past the Strawberry Fields and the Natural History Museum, we got on the subway to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Once again we trekked to upper level seats, our trusty binoculars serving double duty. And there they were, on the field, in the flesh, my pinstriped heroes: Bernie Williams! Derek Jeter! Hideki Matsui! The Yankees and the Seattle Mariners put on a high-scoring show, starting with five runs each in the first inning, a performance every bit as riveting as the previous night's opera. The perfect ending would have been Mariano Rivera taking the mound to close the game—an operatic comparison to Luciano Pavarotti coming on stage for a final aria before the curtain fell. But it wasn't to be. The Yanks tacked on another run and it was no longer a save situation, but they logged a decisive victory, and so did I. I'd achieved my goal: an opera at the Met and a baseball game at Yankee stadium back to back.

I was born in New York, my parents natives, my mother a Brooklynite and lifelong Dodgers fan, my father a classical music and opera buff. We moved to California when I was six, and over time I became a baseball fan and an opera aficionado. Years later my brother, five years older, incited spasms of envy and indignation when he told me about going to games at Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, and the Polo Grounds during that time when New York had three major league baseball teams. I picture it: David strutting at the ballparks in his number three Babe Ruth pinstripe uniform, while I was left at home with neighbors. It was years later as well when my father regaled me with tales of operas he saw in Central Park. A working-class guy, he never made it to the Met, but New York was rife with public concerts, and as a young man he took advantage of the city's bounty. I remembered little about my early years in New York, but when I realized all it had to offer, I knew I'd missed out.

My family eventually settled in San Diego, where I've lived ever since. Opera and baseball became my favorite spectator activities, and I was happy with San Diego's professional contributions to both. I rooted for the Padres and applauded San Diego Opera, attending both sporadically. Then in the mid-90s, a friend whose wife didn't like opera offered me his spare tickets. I saw my first Tosca in 1996 and was hooked. I became a San Diego Opera regular, listened to live Met radio broadcasts every Saturday for what I knew to be the very best. The San Diego Padres were exciting then too, during Tony Gwynn's heyday, and I was going to more baseball games. When the Padres met the Yankees in the 1998 World Series, a middling Padres fan was reenergized and reconnected to her Yankee roots.

Baseball and opera are poles apart, or so it would seem. They occupy separate spheres and separate seasons except briefly, when baseball starts and opera is ending in spring, and the reverse in fall. It was on those rare April and September weekends when their schedules overlapped that I'd find myself going to a ballgame on Friday night and an opera on Saturday. And I started to notice a symmetry between them, as they started to merge like intersecting lines on a graph.

Each requires exceptional artistry and skill, the dazzling pyrotechnics of protagonists and antagonists, pitchers and batters, heroes and villains, all backed by dynamic supporting casts. Operatic singers and elite athletes both perform highly skilled maneuvers, requiring deft coordination and superhuman endurance. A pitcher's perfect inning raises the hair on my arms in the same way as a tenor's pitch-perfect "Nessum Dorma"—both feats of intense athleticism and grace.

I can explain away the appeal as escape and distraction, pure entertainment—none of which should be underestimated in today's world—but it's more. Baseball and opera both encompass strategy and sophistication inviting a singular focus, and it's that claim on my attention that hooks me. There's no place else I find myself so totally engrossed, taken out of myself, riveted to every move on field or stage. And win or lose, I come away fed and filled, as after a satisfying meal, feeling all's right with the world.

A New Yorker at my core, I've always felt deprived of opportunities unique to New York. Food, museums, and of course, opera and baseball. These two having become inextricably linked in my heart and mind, I sought the peak experience in both realms—the New York Yankees and the Metropolitan Opera—and I wanted them together, an opera at the Met and a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on successive days. To do both on a single visit during one of those brief overlaps requires precise planning and good fortune. My infrequent visits to New York, busy and brief, finally yielded that opportunity in 2005, when stars and schedules aligned.

I usually remember my travels by the food, sometimes in exquisite detail, but this time the restaurants and the meals didn't stand out. I think this was the time we went to Mario Batali's Lupa, and it may have been when we first feasted on soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai, but I can't be sure. The opera and the ballgame, back to back, my dreamed-of experience, dominate my memory. I came home exultant, having worshipped at both shrines in succession—one singing, the other swinging.