I’ve only been to one opera. About 15 years ago someone took me to see The Phantom of the Opera at the fabulous Fox Theater. My escort assured me that he had purchased good tickets, but one of the traffic control guys directing people to their seats didn’t even bother to give us directions. He just waved his hand in the direction of west, and we trekked until we found another ticket guy several sectors down who continued to shoo us away from the stage and most of the other patrons. We climbed flight after flight of stairs, the whole time my date muttering about being swindled by the telephone ticket master while I regretted not purchasing the stage-viewing glasses we had passed about two zip codes ago, until we finally arrived at seats that put us at risk for altitude sickness. Seriously, if I had been baking something, I would have needed special pans and different increments of liquid for the batter to stand a fighting chance of turning into respectable brownies. My date mumbled an apology for what was clearly grounds for immediate dismissal, and I spent the next three hours watching actors the size of rice twirl around and sing heartbreaking love ballads to other whole grains on stage. When the phantom finally removed his mask, viewers on a different point of the historical timeline gasped while I struggled to pinpoint which Mahatma particle was disfigured. Admitting defeat, I finally settled back in my seat and took draughts from the complimentary oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling. Thus ended my first and only opera experience. Until Saturday night.
My friend Lauren had complimentary tickets to Candide, and she extended an invitation my way. Knowing that the theater at our local university is such a size that I would be able to see no matter the assigned location, I readily agreed. As we walked through the door, I saw two of my students, and they gave me a shy smile and waved. When you teach in a small town, you can’t even stop at a cow pasture to toss out the contents of last week’s Big Gulp without running into someone you know.
We found seats about three-quarters of the way back, and one of Lauren’s friends spotted her from across the auditorium and came to claim the vacancy on the other side of her. We nestled in as the play began. All would have been perfect except that Lauren’s friend felt the need to offer a running commentary on the music, the actors, his opinions on life, poetry, and fabric softeners, all while using a volume that suggested his kindergarten teacher had failed miserably to impart the “inside voice” verbal skill that is so necessary in adult society. Ten minutes in I was annoyed. If you really want me to give you the stink eye, then just run your mouth through a church service, a movie, or an episode of Burn Notice when Michael Weston is explaining the finer points of stirring up a batch of C-4 in a mixing bowl. But as I learned this evening, it’s really tough to give someone the stink eye when he’s too busy talking to pay you any attention and it’s darker than King Tut’s tomb (before it was pillaged and exposed to the light of day, that is).
My favorite comment occurred when the orchestra took a brief pause, and this fellow thought it timely to blare out, “You know, the music is really just too loud.” I’m sure those on the front row could have chimed in with a rebuttal on their thoughts about having the strings section play forte, but they deferred from answering and simply let the irony resonate in the air.
At the close of the evening, Lauren and I decided to go for dessert, since I had spent the better part of a year bragging about the black and white cheesecake from Mom and Dad’s. We thought we might be the only diners given the late hour, but the host showed us into a room with one other table of guests: my fellow opera-going students and their parents. They giggled and pretended not to see me, and I had pretty much forgotten they were there until one of the young fellows decided to ask a question that was obviously eating him up inside.
“Hey, Ms. Carver? Whatever happened to the old lady’s butt cheek?” If I had a list of questions acceptable to shout across an Italian restaurant, this one probably wouldn’t make the cut. Not even the top ten. But then again, I’ve been called highfalutin before.
The mother’s stance of head cradled in hand told me that the question wasn’t sanctioned in parental quarters, and she mumbled something about them leaving the play before this crucial piece of information had been disclosed.
“She was cannibalized,” I said, knowing the exact reference.
“By Mongols,” Lauren chimed in. And they all nodded their heads at a mystery solved. Cannibalization by Mongols, of course. Why didn’t we think of that?
Moments later the family rose to leave, and the mom looked my way and sighed. “Now I’ve got to go home and explain to my youngest what a eunuch is.”
As I took another bite of exceptional cheesecake, I didn’t envy her the task. Opera is tough enough to decipher when you’re dealing with singing rice pellets, let alone singing pellets incapable of reproduction.
© 2013 – Traci Carver