Libiamo!: Opera’s Love Affair with Booze

"This opera has quite a structured palate, with a long finish, but do you find the nose lacks complexity?" A second-half season preview from our chorister couple Scott & Lianne in their own, inimitable style.

Patrick Carfizzi as Frank, Michael Fabiano as Alfred and Susanna Phillips as Rosalinde in Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Photo by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

Patrick Carfizzi as Frank, Michael Fabiano as Alfred and Susanna Phillips as Rosalinde in Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Photo by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

By Lianne Coble-Dispensa & Scott Dispensa

If, amidst the tsunami of the weekend's various political activities, you missed the live HD broadcast of Bartlett Sher's inspired production of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, fear not! There will be an encore broadcast in movie theaters around the country on Wednesday, January 25th at 6:30pm. And, of course, you'll have 7 more opportunities to witness the “white hot sensuality and impassioned lyricism” (New York Times) of Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau live at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City (the show closes on March 18th).  

One might say this could be a cause for celebration! At least, Scott & I seem to think so. And when we celebrate, the first thing that comes to mind is wine. And, of course, why shouldn’t it? Opera and alcohol have maintained a friendly relationship throughout the centuries. Think of the operas with delightfully raucous party scenes: La Traviata, Die Fledermaus, Otello, The Merry Widow, Cavalleria Rusticana, and even Roméo et Juliette! 

So, to pair with this sumptuous piece, we recommend a wine from the region closest to Verona, where Romeo & Juliette is set: namely, an intensely-flavored, dark-hued Amarone della Valpolicella. If you’re interested in a little nosh to go with your tipple, some asiago cheese (or pecorino romano) drizzled with a little bit of honey will do the trick!

Emily Pulley as Valencienne and Paul Groves as Camille in Lehar's "The Merry Widow." Photo: Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

Emily Pulley as Valencienne and Paul Groves as Camille in Lehar's "The Merry Widow." Photo: Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

If you couldn’t tell already, Scott & I love wine (particularly Scott). When we’re not at the Metropolitan Opera rehearsing, staging, or performing one of the 24 operas that feature the chorus, we’re often home drinking wine, talking about wine, going to wine tastings, planning wine-centric summer vacations to Napa or France, or maintaining our (very humble) wine cellar. Scott also has a soft spot for in-the-weeds, educational wine tomes. The books on his bedside table include (and I’m not kidding) “The Complete Bordeaux”, “The Oxford Companion to Wine”, and “A Wine & Food Guide to the Loire”.

I swear, we do have other hobbies.

At any rate, at this point in the year, we have 11 more chorus shows to open, 2 shows that are making their return to the schedule after a small hiatus (Don Giovanni & Aida), and one show (Werther) that doesn’t include chorus, but deserves mention anyway since it’s absolutely gorgeous and worth the trip. So, we’ve taken the liberty to offer you a wine (or alcohol) pairing for each of the 14 shows that are left this season. Enjoy a pre-theater glass, or hit the pub after the show. Either way, enjoy yourselves responsibly. Cheers!

Carmen

Opens: January 19th

What to Drink:

While the story itself is fairly dark, the joyous effervescence of the music would pair well with pair with a nice glass of Cava, Spain’s famous sparkling wine.

Rigoletto

George Gagnidze in the title role of Verdi's Rigoletto. Photo by Richard Termine/ Metropolitan Opera.

George Gagnidze in the title role of Verdi's Rigoletto. Photo by Richard Termine/ Metropolitan Opera.

Opens: January 20th

What to Drink:

Verdi originally intended the character of Rigoletto to be the court jester of Mantua, in Italy. If we were going for a traditional pairing, we’d offer a nice Nebbiolo from one of Barbaresco’s traditional producers in the Lombardy region of Italy.

However, since the Met’s production has set the story in decadent, overtly masculine 1960s Las Vegas, we were thinking you might enjoy this performance with a nice Canadian Club & soda. Or, heck, a martini.

Rusalka

Opens: February 2nd

What to Drink:

It’s not too often that one gets to see an opera written by a Czech composer, in the Czech language, AND based on a Czech fairytale! So, we recommend jumping headlong into a glass of pilsner, which originated in the town of Pilsen (a city that was originally located in the Austrian Republic, but is now part of the Czech Republic)!

Better yet, try a traditional Czech drink called the Beton: a mixture of the Czech Republic’s famous liquor, Becherovka (a potent bitter said to help digestion), and tonic water.

I Puritani

Opens: February 10th

What to Drink:

The Puritans of Plymouth weren’t big fans of “the sauce”, so we’ll encourage you to abstain from the sampling of spirits to get yourself in the right mindset for this opera.

Lianne suggests a non-alcoholic Cape Cod cocktail! While vodka is often an ingredient, you can leave that out and simply mix cranberry juice and lime juice with club soda. Ah, a beverage even a Puritan could appreciate.

Werther

Opens: February 16th, 2017

What to Drink:

This achingly beautiful story of unattainable love is set in the town of Wetzlar, Germany, which isn’t too far from the border of France. So, Scott was thinking that a Pinot Gris from Zind-Humbrecht would do nicely. The sweetness or dryness of Zind-Humbrecht wines varies greatly between vintages, which is why they created a Sweetness Index ranging between 1-5. So, if you’re looking for a wine to pair with the first act, go with a 5. If you’re looking for something drier and more austere to pair with the final few acts, then go with a 1.

Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. Photos by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

Sonya Yoncheva as Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. Photos by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera.

La Traviata

Opens: February 24th

What to Drink:

Could the ideal pairing be champagne? Si, certoVioletta, the star of the show, loves a proper party, so libiamo!

Idomeneo

Opens: March 6th

What to Drink:

Scott & Lianne are, admittedly, not well-versed in the wines of Greece (or, more specifically, Crete, where Idomeneo’s story is set.). We are even less knowledgeable about what the royalty were drinking in 1200 B.C. Just putting that out there. Nevertheless, we can get creative and offer you a taste of Retsina, a Greek white (or rosé) resinated wine. Resinated, by the way, means that the wine was fermented with small pieces of pine resin, creating a truly unique palate. Retsina has been part of Greece’s drinking history for at least 2000 years, so that’s as close as we’re going to get to the days of Idomeneo. If you don’t feel like being that adventurous, enjoy a chilled glass of ouzo with a hefty mezedakia platter.

Fidelio

Opens: March 16th

What to Drink:

Scott & Lianne diverted WILDLY on their ideas for alcohol pairings with Fidelio, Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece (and, incidentally, the only opera he wrote). Scott, with his extensive knowledge of wine, thought Beethoven’s Austrian background meant a pairing with a nice, full-bodied, mineral-y glass of Riesling. Lianne, considering that the setting of the opera is in a prison, felt that the more appropriate beverage would be a mug of Prison Wine, preferably fermented in a garbage bag under one’s cot, and chugged quickly before the guards catch you. Though she also maintains that, since the prison is located in Spain, a nice Rioja could work. So, you know… you have choices. Who are we to judge?

Eugene Onegin

Bill Irwin as Frosch in J. Strauss' "Die Fledermaus." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Bill Irwin as Frosch in J. Strauss' "Die Fledermaus." Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Opens: March 30th

What to Drink:

Lianne & Scott were torn on what was more appropriate for this opulent Russian classic. Do we pour out a couple shots of Russian Standard vodka, or go with a nice glass of champagne? Lest we forget, the Russian aristocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries were heavily influenced by French culture. So we’d say go with your gut: if you’re feeling rustic, then enjoy your vodka. If you’re feeling fancy, pour yourself a glass of bubbly. Either way, За здоровье!

Aida

Returns: March 23rd

What to Drink:

Ah, Aida. Let’s cheerfully ignore the fact that this opera is set in Egypt, and focus on the juicy parts: Aida is a grand, opulent show, written by an Italian composer, sung in Italian, full of Italian bravado, big voices, and a cast of thousands! (Well, maybe just hundreds.) Keeping these things in mind, Scott & I think a beefy, knock-you-off-your-feet Barolo would be the way to go to celebrate the glories of Egitto!

Der Rosenkavalier

Opens: April 13th

What to Drink:

Just because our production of Der Rosenkavalier features some luxury casting (Renee Fleming, Elīna Garanča, and Erin Morley in the 3rd act trio?! Come ON. Bliss.) doesn’t mean you must splurge on a luxury wine! We’ll be looking at Viennese offerings, since our director, Robert Carsen, has set the scene in Vienna in the early 1900s. There are several delicious Viennese wines that won’t break the bank. Why not try a light, perfume-y Grüner Veltliner? Or, take a chance on a glass of Blaufränkisch, an Austrian red varietal which can be rich and full-bodied, with notes of spice.

Simon Keenlyside in the title role of Thomas' "Hamlet." Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.

Simon Keenlyside in the title role of Thomas' "Hamlet." Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera.

Don Giovanni

Returns: April 26th

What to Drink:

The Spanish legend of Don Juan (or, in Italian, Don Giovanni), the fictional womanizing hedonist, deserves to be paired with a full-bodied, muscular Priorat (made from Garnacha, Cariñena, and a blend of other red varietals), or an opulent, oaky Ribera del Duero (usually 100% Tempranillo grapes). I imagine the Don, who sings a famous aria (“Finch’han da vino”) about the, um, benefits of wine, would approve of either of these choices.

The Flying Dutchman

Opens: April 25th

What to Drink:

When you’re sailing the seas in search of true love, it’s good to have liquor around that can weather the long journey. Why not a cold shot of Jenever, the juniper-flavored national liquor of the Netherlands, and also, the first gin! After you’ve arrived on land, pour a glass of German “Hock”, which is what the English termed wine from Germany until almost the 20th century!

Cyrano de Bergerac

Opens: May 2nd

What to Drink:

We’ve arrived at one of Scott’s favorite topics: the wines of France! Our last opera of the season begins at the Hotel de Bourgogne, which is the perfect opportunity to sample the exquisite (and, erm, often pricey) wines of the Burgundy region. Scott would like to offer two options: the Millionaire’s Delight, and the Bourgogne for the Bourgeois. (Or, in other words, the wine that the rest of us can afford.) If you’ve just won the lottery and money is no object, go for a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti-Romanée-Conti, a Pinot Noir from a monopole vineyard, which means it is one of the rare vineyards in Burgundy owned by one domaine only. This is one of the finest, and most expensive, bottles you can buy. So, good luck. For the rest of us, find a nice village-level Meursault, which, as a Chardonnay, is one of our personal favorites.


Scott and Lianne enjoying their favorite... hobby...

Scott and Lianne enjoying their favorite... hobby...

Lianne Coble-Dispensa & Scott Dispensa are a pair of lucky newlyweds (if three years counts as new!) that get to work together every day at the Metropolitan Opera. Lianne is currently in the middle of her second year as a full-time chorus member, and Scott is on his seventh year! They swear that they don’t just drink wine all the time. In fact, in their spare time, they enjoy running (Lianne is a 3-time marathoner, and Scott is an ultramarathoner, which is insanely impressive), cycling, general gym-rat activities, cooking constantly, eating (which they might like just as much as drinking), singing at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and spending far too much time with their two cats, Maximillien de Robespierre and Charles Hubert Hastings Parry. They live in New Jersey, and they actually like it.