Friday, April 15, 2011

In which I have an unfortunate relationship with punctuality (and other personal failings).

I'd prepared for this day for over a year. I'd put on and set aside innumerable outfits, checked almost a million times that my ticket was in fact still in my wallet, and, when my windshield cracked earlier that week, took an emergency day off work to get it replaced just so I'd be guaranteed a mode of transportation.

My brother probably hadn't expected his 2009 Christmas gift to me -- two tickets to a Met opera streamed live to our favorite movie theatre -- also came with a small list of problems and complications. Indeed, at the time I hadn't expected it either, but as a year passed and every opera showing I wanted to see sold out before I could exchange my ticket vouchers or was canceled the day of due to problems at the Met or a gas leak at the theatre, I started to suspect the tickets were cursed. I gave up on seeing an opera in 2010 somewhere midway through the year -- probably after receiving the near-devastating news that my opera of choice was sold out (the sixth or seventh time I'd been turned away for just that reason) -- but ordered my brother to let me know the moment the 2011 schedule came out. True to form, my brother failed spectacularly and forgot, but already anticipating such an occurrence, I checked the website almost daily. The schedule went up just after Thanksgiving, and I immediately conferred with the only other person I knew who liked opera as to which shows would be best. On Christmas Day -- my first opportunity to get to the theatre, I arrived at the ticket counter armed with a list and my ticket vouchers.

I was an old pro at explaining the vouchers; the teenager at the counter was not as used to dealing with a semi-crazed opera fan, and apparently had no idea the theatre even showed opera. After staring at me a moment, she glanced at the schedule in front of her, back at me, and then to her left.

"Okay," she said. "Let me get a manager."

I gave her my brother's name. "He's a manager, and he's here today. Is he available?" I at least wouldn't have to explain my ticket vouchers to him: he'd started this mess in the first place.

"Oh," she said glancing at the schedule again. "He's, uh, unclogging a toilet."

It was good to know he was putting his college education to good use. "All right. Anyone else is fine."

She disappeared for a moment and returned with a young man I vaguely recognized -- perhaps one of my brother's friends, or a high school classmate's younger brother. As I explained my ticket vouchers -- again -- I watched his eyes gloss over and his face go a little blank. I cut my story as short as possible and ended with a near plea.

" I'd like to exchange these vouchers for tickets to Iphigénie en --"


"Iphigénie en Tauride. February 26. Here. With Susan Graham?" It seemed worth mentioning; this was my first choice of shows only because of Susan: it's rare for an opera to feature a mezzo-soprano in the title role.

He frowned. "Never heard of her. How did you spell the name of the movie?"

"Opera. It's I-p-h-i-g-e-n-i-e..."

"Got it." He typed something in two or three quick bursts, and I nearly sighed with relief when the printer started to spew out a pair of tickets. "How did you pronounce that?"

I said it again. "It's French," I explained.

"I thought operas were all Italian."

"Some of them are," I said as I took my tickets. "But this one is French."

That seemed to satisfy him. "Enjoy your movie!" he answered brightly as I walked away.

Later, when I told my brother I'd retrieved my tickets while he was elbow-deep in toilet water and damn it, the theatre had better not close down again the morning of my show like it did the last time, he laughed.

"I'll see what I can do." Then, he paused. "You're going to be the youngest person there," he told me.

This was likely true. Every other time I'd queued up in the theatre's parking lot with a horde of disappointed opera fans looking to exchange their tickets for vouchers, the other opera fans had primarily been senior citizens who arrived en masse via a bright blue bus belonging to the local retirement community.

"Not if I invite someone younger than me," I answered, and said my goodbyes.

And that was how I roped Amanda into seeing her very first opera.

Having finally settled on an outfit and committed to a brunch plan with Amanda, all I had left to worry over was getting to the theatre on time. Already half-convinced that this attempt would be foiled by the theatre shutting down yet again, I made sure Amanda and I left plenty of time to get through brunch -- and that we had a backup plan in case something went wrong and we were turned away from the show. At first, this seemed like an easy enough task: Amanda arrived at my house on time, city traffic was light, and when we discovered the restaurant we'd chosen for brunch had a twenty minute wait for a table, we found an alternative almost immediately. Everything was going according to plan.

Of course, that was before ten or fifteen large parties walked in, swamping our otherwise diligent waitress and causing us to wait for the check about ten minutes longer than we could spare. Aware that we were already cutting it close, Amanda and I paid as quickly as we could (a process that basically involved handing the waitress our credit cards before she even set the check down in front of us) and rushed out of the restaurant. To add to my anxiety, every light between the restaurant and theatre turned red as I approached it, and the left turn into the theatre parking lot was held up by a Volvo with what was either spectacularly poor depth perception or an inability to ascertain how long such a turn might take.

We finally arrived at the theatre with just two minutes to spare and my nails bitten to the quick, proving that my parents had no idea what seeds of anxiety they were planting when they first taught me the importance of punctuality. After determining that perhaps punctuality and I needed to try seeing other people, Amanda and I made our way to the screening room. As we approached, she started to wander away.

"Where are you going?" It came out somewhat like an accusation. "The show starts in, like, ten seconds!"

She looked at me like I'd spontaneously grown a second head. "The bathroom. And we're fine."


Amanda pointed out how many pitchers of water we'd gone through over the course of brunch, then cast me a curious glance. "You don't have to go?"

I checked the time. The show was scheduled to start in just a few moments. "Bladder damage builds character," I decided, and the two of us temporarily parted ways.

The moment I stepped into the theatre, I knew going in alone had been a mistake: the theatre was packed almost full, and as I came around the corner I felt virtually ever pair of eyes turn toward me. Most looked away after a glance, but those that didn't seemed to be scrutinizing me as I searched the rows of seats for two empty chairs.

I was, as my brother had warned me, easily the youngest person there, and while that shouldn't have bothered me... it did. More so when I finally found a pair of empty seats near the front, right ahead of a pair of elderly women who were using those seats as coat racks.

"Sorry," I said as I approached. "May I use these seats?"

One of the ladies squinted at me. "Are you in the right theatre?"

Momentarily taken aback, I just stared at her for a few seconds. "Yes?"

"Are you sure?"

I immediately regretted having worn jeans. "I... Yes." I cleared my throat. "So, may I..." Just then, I spotted another set of empty seats. They were all the way up front, about two rows ahead of these ladies, but at least I wouldn't have to offer them my ticket stub as proof of admission. "Never mind. Thank you."

As I slunk over to those seats, I overhead a snippet of conversation from the ladies:

"She's theatre hopping, I just know it. Won't she be in for a surprise!"

The other woman tittered. "Honestly. People these days..."

I slouched in my seat, bit my tongue, and looked desperately toward the entrance, hoping to spot Amanda. The women behind me kept murmuring to one another, and, though it may have been my imagination, I swore I saw them glancing my way now and again. When Amanda finally waltzed in and I waved frantically at her so she could find me, I saw one of them shake her head. I paid it no mind and, as Amanda took her seat, I leaned a little toward her.

"They're judging us," I told her. She didn't answer, and since the lights were going down and the music swelling, it clearly didn't warrant a response anyway.

The opera itself was wonderful. Susan Graham and Plácido Domingo both had colds, as the Met director told us before the beginning of the show, but neither showed any signs of it. The intermission offered a few behind-the-scenes extras, wherein we watched as Plácido Domingo gazed longingly at a cup of hot tea as someone fixed his makeup, Paul Groves covered himself in fake blood, and Susan Graham admitted to having hidden a handkerchief in the sleeve of her dress, just in case. When the second half began, we were just as enthralled as with the first.

At the end, after the applause died away and we left the theatre, I looked to Amanda -- knowing full well that the ladies from earlier were just a few paces behind us.

"So what did you think?" I asked.

She had only praise. "It was wonderful! I'm so glad you convinced me to come!"

"I'm glad you liked it. Any chance you'd want to see Le Comte Ory later in the season? It's really funny. It's about this guy who tries to get into women's bedrooms while their husbands are away at war, and..."

As I went on my spiel about the plot and the kind of performers who would be in it, as well as the various arias, the two ladies passed us. And, again, it may have been my imagination, but I could have sworn they were trying to hide their faces with their coat collars.

Want to know more about Iphigénie en Tauride? Read all about it here.