Opera on the High Seas

Opera on the high seas In stark contrast to what happens to many old ships, as recently reported here by gCaptain.com, today’s NY Times (September 8, 2007) has a great story and slideshow about the second life of a 69 year old former oil tanker, Mary A. Whalen, as the stage for Puccini’s opera Il Tabarro. “Don’t Rock the Boat; Opera in Progress” was written by Melena Rzik with great photos by Michael Nagle.

Both Ms. Salguero (the director of PortSide New York, a nonprofit company that owns the Mary A. Whalen and promotes the Red Hook waterfront) and the owners of American Stevedoring, which provides a free berth for the Whalen were eager to help, as a way to remind New Yorkers that there is a working port in their midst. In addition, said Matt Yates, the company’s director of commercial operations, “it’s such a cool idea.”

Not only does the former tanker serve as the set, but some of the actors have some interesting credentials as well.

The action is meant to happen on a barge on the Seine in Paris, and for verisimilitude, this production is hard to beat. Not only is it staged on the tanker, the Mary A. Whalen, with the industrial waterfront of New York as a backdrop, but some American Stevedoring employees serve as extras. (It’s a stretch: they play longshoremen.) The audience watches from the pier a few feet away.

Samuel Fye, 29, a fourth-generation longshoreman, Red Hook native and first-time actor, quickly volunteered to be in the show, but found that, in fact, it was stretch. “The acting part is harder than the real thing because you’ve got to pretend like you’re lifting something that’s heavy that you’re used to lifting for real,” said Mr. Fye, who normally hoists 150-pound sacks. “You’ve got to make it seem natural.”

But he thought the show was worth the effort. “There’s a lot of negative things that go on over here,” he said, “and this is something positive for the community.”

Most Americans never experience our country’s working waterfront, so programs like this are so important in raising the awareness of our rich maritime heritage and culture. Encore!!!

BONUS video: News story and tour of the Mary A. Whalen

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

One thought on “Opera on the High Seas”

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