These women have binged over 200 operas virtually since the Met closed
Marion Chalat and Carolyn Starry would wow Wagner if he were alive today. And Verdi. And Donizetti.
The friends have spent every evening for the past seven months enjoying an encore performance by the Metropolitan Opera — more than 200 of them — ever since the company had to close in mid-March because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Chalat and Starry, both longtime Met subscribers, started their binge-watching on March 16, the day the company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, launched the nightly streams. So far, according to Met spokesman Michael San Gabino, the series has had an impressive 14.4 million views.
“We were so thrilled that Peter Gelb was offering something to people who had to stay inside mostly,” Starry told The Post. “For those few hours, we can focus on something beautiful.”
For Chalat, 80, the programs were an escape — both from the pandemic and the death of her partner of 34 years, Wayne Foote. “The operas provided solace and sanity.”
The women came to love opera early on, growing up in families that listened to “Tosca” and “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata” on the radio — and music has always played an outsized role in their lives. Starry, 74, is a lyric soprano who taught vocal music and sang on many international cruises. Chalat taught high school biology — but she was married 10 years to an opera singer, Marc Belfort, and they have two sons. Belfort was with the Zurich Opera when he died in 1998.
Starry and Chalat became fast friends at the New York Historical Society, where they volunteer. One day about a decade ago they were chatting and learned they both had tickets to the opera — Chalat on Tuesdays and Starry for Saturday matinees.
From the very beginning, the opera aficionados have emailed each other their thoughts on the shows. After all, Starry pointed out, they were just sitting inside their apartments on the Upper West Side with nothing much else to do.
Starry takes her laptop into the kitchen so she can spread out and take notes; Chalat is more free-flowing, watching on her iPad after she catches the news.
“We didn’t want to call them reviews so we settled on ‘book reports,’” she said. “Initially, we were very, very serious. Now, we’re very, very relaxed.”
Most of the time, their tastes are similar. But sometimes they don’t see eye to eye.
“Sometimes one might like an opera better,” Chalat told The Post. “And we sometimes disagree on opera singers — but I’m not going to mention any names.”
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. Chalat wasn’t keeping track, but Starry was — printing out the operas and numbering them.
On Sept. 16, they marked their half-year streak — 176 operas — with an outdoor lunch of burgers. Sunday night will be No. 208 — Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.”
After the Met canceled the entire 2020-21 season, Starry and Chalat drowned their sorrow by — what else? — watching another opera.
“Because that’s what we do,” Starry said. “That’s our therapy in a way.”
The Met has 14 years of operas to keep them entertained.