Boh, Shay…Cyan….Yew…Eeeeeeee…

21 Jan
Renee Fleming will sing the National Anthem at this year's Super Bowl.

Renee Fleming will sing the National Anthem at this year’s Super Bowl.

It’s been announced that Renee Fleming, arguably one of the most celebrated American sopranos in the opera world, is going to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl this year. She will be the first opera singer in history to sing it at the Super Bowl and my Facebook feed is all abuzz about it.

I spent three seasons working in the coat check room at the Metropolitan Opera House after I moved to New York. It was one of the best jobs I could have ever hoped for. Because I moved just a few months after 9/11, security was very high and the Met was requiring all male patrons to check any kind of bag they had with them. In addition, all female patrons had to check bags as well with the exception of their purse. To pull this off, they hired dozens of us to check the bags at the front entrances and then bring them downstairs to the coat room and sort them by number to speed up the distribution process at the end of the show. It was organized chaos, but it was a brilliant job. I met wonderful people there – people with whom I am still friends – and the money was ridiculous. We got paid a flat rate of $54 for the first four hours we were there. After the fourth hour, we started getting time and a half every 15 minutes and at the end of the night we split tips. My checks were sometimes $500-$600 and around the holidays we could walk out with $30-$60 in tips on a good night. Sadly, I have no idea where all that money is now, but I was enjoying life back then. I was working with one of my very best friends from graduate school (she got me the job), I had the best boss I’ve ever worked for and I got to experience the highest quality opera one could hope to find – and I got paid to be there to listen to it!

After two seasons of paying 10 people a night to basically sit around during the shows, the Met cut the coat check’s budget and got rid of the mandatory bag check policy. The majority of the staff was either let go or had their shifts cut, but somehow I kept on working as much as my boss, Jack, could let me. He was a good man and looked out for me and Jennifer, making sure that we were taken care of, both with shifts and with “family,” inviting us to his home to share a homemade Thanksgiving meal with him, his lovely wife, Mickey, and his mother-in-law. I was able to hang around another season before the budget was cut again and I was taken off the schedule.

While I was at the Met, I had extraordinary opportunities that I still can’t believe. As employees, we were allowed to purchase the best available seats to any operas we wanted for $40 a seat. I took my parents and my Aunt and Uncle to see Aida – we had center orchestra seats that would have normally cost $300 per ticket. I got to hear Plácido Domingo, Debra Voigt, Natalie Dessay, Juan Diego Flórez, Ruth Ann Swenson, Dmitri Hvorotovsky and so many more on any given night, and most incredibly, I was at Luciano Pavarotti’s final performance of “Tosca,” standing in the back of the auditorium, weeping, as he sang his last “E lucevan le stelle” at the Met. He was unable to stand on his own, so they restaged the number so he could lean against a table. His size and his age, however, didn’t diminish that incredible voice that pierced through the opera house like a laser cutting through the dark. It was a moment that I will never forget.

I also had the opportunity to hear Ms. Fleming sing on many occasions – most memorably during the run of Il Pirata that the Met mounted specifically for her. You know you’re a big deal when the Met builds a show around you. To celebrate her birthday, which was during that run, her old college roommate (and famous Phantom of the Opera Christine), Lisa Vroman, threw a party in Ms. Fleming’s honor on the Grand Tier level after a performance. Jack asked me to work the event, checking coats and packages for the guests. I would, obviously, be paid – I think it was $25/hr. – and I could accept tips. And I got to check Ms. Fleming’s feather coat. Yes, it was a coat of feathers, and she looked stunning in it. Ms. Vroman and I had chatted earlier in the evening – she was impressed that I’d heard of her – and so when she and Ms. Fleming were leaving, she made sure that we had a little chat before they left. She and Ms. Fleming were so lovely to me, a lowly coat check guy, and I will never forget that.

I will also never forget that Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance didn’t tip me when I checked their bags. But that’s another story for another day.

ImageI have no doubt that Renee Fleming will give us an incredible National Anthem on February 2. But if she happens to call out, I know someone who could easily step in for her.

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One Response to “Boh, Shay…Cyan….Yew…Eeeeeeee…”

  1. mikiepocd January 23, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    Ooooo….dish, girl. I want more Met stories.

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