By DAVE ITZKOFF
If the story is to be believed, there’s some schadenfreude to be found in a tale that Sting tells about being booed the first time he performed at an opera house. It was in 1987, as Sting recounted recently, that he stepped onstage to sing “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” with the Hamburg State Orchestra, and he noticed “a group of people, all with blue and gray hair, and jewels and fur,” who were jeering him before he’d opened his mouth.
[Sting will perform at the Metropolitan Opera with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra on Tuesday and Wednesday]
This gang, he learned after finishing his song, was a claque that expected to be paid for its applause, and most assuredly was compensated for the cheers it delivered for his second number that night.
If any claques remain at the Metropolitan Opera, Sting said with a chuckle: “I’m paying them, believe me. Out of my own pocket.”
It’s a joke, of course: the only dissonant tones likely to be heard at the Met when Sting plays his first-ever performances there on Tuesday and Wednesday with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra of Britain will be coming from audience members trying to sing along on “Roxanne.”
It is also a reminder from this former Police singer and bassist turned phenomenally successful pop singer that he is still capable of being humbled. That quality may not be immediately visible in his sumptuous Central Park West duplex, where on Thursday he was taking a break from his tour and preparing for the release of a new album, “Symphonicities,” containing orchestral arrangements of his songs.
The apartment’s host can sometimes seem like the ultimate version of that co-worker or college-reunion acquaintance who is always one-upping your anecdotes: ask Sting about the 19th-century aluminum double bass he keeps near his bookshelves and he will say he uses it to play “one little piece of Purcell every day and that’s it”; mention the two chess sets he keeps on his coffee table and he’ll tell you about the matches he played against the grandmaster Garry Kasparov. (“Of course he beat me every time. But you know, he can’t sing.”)
And if that same eclecticism has led Sting far from his origins as a rebellious rocker, he knows how it makes him look to some listeners.
“Of course I do,” he said. “I come off as being pretentious and all that stuff. Don’t care.”