Appetite for Opera
The Right Dining Experiences Can Heighten an Evening of Music and Drama
Posted: Wednesday, November 28th
There is something about opera that makes me hungry. I'm not sure if it's the exuberant presentations of classical stories by overly talented and sometimes larger-that-life performers; the orchestral interpretations; or the thematic drama combining voice, acting, music along with the incredible sets and lighting that trigger my appetite and thirst.
I learned several years ago, after attending an opera near Brandenburg Gate in the former West Berlin, that one should never attend an opera on an empty stomach. This particular opera was long, its intermissions were short and food vendors were nowhere to be found. I might have been swayed to leave had it not been for the electric environment, the epic drama and the time frame, which was just weeks before the Iron Curtin came tumbling down.
Fine Dining, Great Company
James Meena, Opera Carolina's conductor, took members of the local media on an opera educational and restaurant pairing tour. I was privileged last season to enjoy Meena's vast knowledge of the upcoming operas while sampling the culinary and pairing presentations of area restaurants. When Jaimee Evens, Opera Carolina's marketing director, learned that I could not attend this year's event, she arranged a mini tour of three restaurants. Verona Italian Eatery and Lounge, Table Restaurant and Bar, and Waldhorn Restaurant were eager to show how opera attendees can heighten their musical/theatrical experiences by pairing them with cuisine that complements the productions. This promised to be an extraordinary evening for me, a gentleman of advanced years, who was privileged to escort three lovely young ladies, Evans, Natalija Martijan and Hailey Cobb.
To help you understand the pairing of opera and food, let's start with "Romeo et Juliette", which was composed into an opera by Charles Gounod, who was born in Paris. The setting for this 14th-century opera was in Verona, Italy, which probably explains why this opera was paired with the dining experience at Verona Italian Eatery and Lounge. Maybe there is very little connection between country of origin, language or culture, but as the opera folks' literature stated, "Fall in love with the traditions of European charm, romance and culinary delights as you overlook the heart of uptown under the twilight of candlelight." That was good enough for me, because the antipasta and wine at Verona were perfecto. And the combination of sautéed shrimp, calamari, cilantro pasta salad and salami rolls and Busiella wine reminded me of the many cultural influences that were evident in this most famous opera.
Act II: An Austrian Encounter
Next, we journey to the 19th century, which was the setting for an Austrian opera, "Die Fledermaus." Influenced by the cultures of Austria, Hungary and Germany, this opera's somewhat comical love story is filled with disguised attempts at indiscretions between Gabriel von Eisenstein and his wife Rosalinde. They believed they were flirting with indiscrete affairs of the heart when they were actually rekindling their own love affair. This spirited opera is best viewed after consuming a generous helping of hearty German food like the spread prepared at Waldhorn Restaurant in Pineville. Among the offerings: the Bratwurst Vorspeise, a sausage sampler that included bratwurst, bauran brats, knockwurst, and a full stein filled with a collection of robust imported beers such as Dinkelacker, Dushel and Spaten. The Waldhorn prepared a Kartoffelpuffer, a tasty potato pancake with applesauce to further prepare us for "Die Fledermaus." All I can say is that our time in this restaurant was too short.
The Evening's Final Act
Aida, an Ethiopian slave to the proud Princess Amnerius, was torn between her love for Radames and her native Ethiopia, where she was the princess daughter of King Amonasro. Radames had been appointed by the Egyptian kings as commander of the forces that were to protect the Nile River area from advances of the Ethiopian armies. The fertile land along the Nile was resplendent with lush vegetation that yielded bounties of vegetables and fruit. The area became know for the authentic dishes enhanced by succulent fruit compotes, puddings and pastries. As a Tribute to these ancient dessert samplers, the Table Restaurant prepared a collection of delicacies that almost overwhelmed this writer and his mini-tour companions. We shared chocolate cheesecake that was more of a mousse than a cake, a lemon tart with ice cream and a Pod de Crème, a pudding whose flavor is indescribable. The ultimate dessert was the Molten Chocolate Cake with a sinfully rich, lava center that oozed from this decadent denouement. What could possibly make all of these confections taste even better? A light, bubbly nectar called Prosecto, which is a sparkling wine.
On this splendid evening in October, the company was terrific, the presentation was beautiful and the "cast" was superb. I can't wait for the real opera performances to begin.
By Darrell Myers
South Park Magazine
December 2007 issue
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