Opera, as the hype goes, promises high drama and grand emotions. Oddly, I can’t remember an opening night soaring to such heights when I take along a date.
I’ve reviewed the opera for a dozen years from the best seat in the house. I dis a few. But mostly I swoon, even over a warhorse, like Verdi’s “Otello” where a fat baritone writhes on the floor in deep emotional pain.
Once an opera-lover, always one.
The key to that truth? You have to get to the once part — first.
Such has been my mission for my opera date, a task at which I’ve failed over and over.
Like the operatic figures victimized by tragic flaws, I make the same mistake time after time. I invite a man I’ve been dating, or want to date. I give him the second $150 ticket (called “plus-ones” in the media business). And I give it with a hopeful heart.
The kind of men I like will appreciate the opera, I assume. (Or assumed.) After all, opera portrays warring wills, competitive natures, desirable women and Alpha men, and in the end, the story is tied up in a neat resolution. Sometimes an opera ends so preposterously tragically that it leaves you cold (Strauss’s “Elektra”). Other times, the libretto (say, Bizet’s “Pearl Fishers”) is too corny for modern-day sensibilities.
Still. How can a healthy human being resist the heat?
Instead of stirring up fervor, the opera ended several of my romantic relationships — not tragically, but decisively. Where was a moment of Wagnerian Sturm and Drang or a giddy hour of Mozartian levity!
Most often, the night ends on one long flat note.
My failures began with a sports writer whom I invited to “Candide.” As my date approached the door, my son, 11 at the time, mumbled: “Uh-aw. Look what he’s wearing.”
It was the red corduroy shirt he’d worn on our first birding outing. Maybe he’ll adjust, I thought.
He didn’t. He nodded off during the second act, and as we walked from the opera hall into the foggy night, me humming a few bars of Bernstein’s catchy score, he said, “That sucked.”
Then there was Onofre, a theater fan. He enjoyed “Tosca,” especially the moment when the heroine leaped to her untimely death.
But Onofre’s stinginess emerged like Scarpia’s evil heart in the first act of “Tosca.” During intermission, he stood by as I pawed through my tiny beaded handbag to pay for drinks. I’d picked up the check too many times! Unlike Tosca, I was unable to suffer over Onofre’s petty crimes. As bluesman Sam Howard sings, “Ain’t no catfish worth dyin’ for.”
When “Nixon in China” opened, my then-flame caught my anticipation like a fever. Claudio rented a tuxedo! He cared that the opera is an occasion!
At dinner, he spilled pinot noir on his starched shirt, and he worried about it during the three-plus hours of John Adams’ masterpiece.
Post-opera, at my door, he said, “Aren’t you going to ask me in?”
I was resolute, a true Madame Mao. This was no time for ardor. Claudio flashed a scowl, nastier than any Nixon wore that night onstage.
Now, at last, the final act’s threads are coming together in a mind-blowing aria.
My next plus-one ticket will go to a lover of opera’s great stories, to a guy who can go over the top, if only momentarily, march to the funeral pyre with a lover, like Bellini’s brave and bitter Norma.
Opera is about characters who fall in love, or anything but indifference, agonize over everything, make stupid decisions, risk their lives for little reward, redeem themselves in lightening moments, kill themselves over silly or sometimes consequential matters, listen – or don’t — to prescient choruses warning them not to plunge into circumstances that will cost them their pride, or their lives.
Opera takes me for a wild ride. I’m waiting for the beau who can take it with me. The music has been written!
This piece was published in Centrepiece magazine.