Open-Mindedness and the Opera

So, we have been under all sorts of social pressure from my husband’s brother to go to the opera.  I think it’s partly because he can’t believe he’s related by blood or marriage to two people who are such unmitigated lowbrows that they’ve never been to an opera before — and are even kind of proud of it.

From the next room, I could hear him screaming at my husband over Skype about this soprano and that tenor and the story lines of various operas that it would be sad — no, make that criminal — to miss while we were in New York.  Madame Butterfly!  Aida!  Puccini, Wagner!  I got so tired of listening to the screamed suggestions, even in another room, that I had to cover my ears and lie down and take a nap.

“We really need to go to the opera,” my husband said later, when he emerged from his office.  “At least once.”

Well, fine, great, swell.  But don’t expect me to go deep-sea fishing around the Internet when I am already way, way too busy looking up plays and lectures I want to go to.  “Mmmm,” I said.  This, along with the glassy, unfocused stare, is long-term marriage speak for don’t look at me, buddy, you’re on your own.

Usually, without enthusiastic support, these little spells of high culture go away.  This time, my husband kept mentioning it over and over and we finally ended up at Lincoln Center Plaza once again for an HD outdoor viewing of “La Boheme.”  Intra-family guilt will do that.

Naturally, we got there too late to get a chair.  So we parked ourselves on the side, sitting on a concrete rectangle with a bunch of other people who were late, too.  If you cranked your neck around at an angle, though, you could see the screen.

A woman behind us kept telling a new acquaintance how she, too, had once sung opera, but hadn’t quite made the big time.  That’s one thing I love about being here: The quality and quantity of overheard conversations is amazing.  For an inveterate eavesdropper like me, it’s a constant delight.  The woman talked on and on about this opera and that, which was OK, but I kept wishing she’d go back to her bitter remarks about ageism in the opera world.

Then the opera started and I decided that since I was a very openminded person I was going to pay close attention.  I sat and concentrated, even though the seat was hard and the New York mosquitoes were feasting on my ankles.  The story line, I have to say, was interesting, with a bunch of impoverished artists complaining about being broke, but having a pretty good time of it.  (A bit derivative, though; we’d already seen “Rent.”)  Then most of the artists left and a sick woman stumbled in and started looking around for her room key.  Who knew singing about a lost key would take so long?

We sneaked out about that time, so I have no idea whether the key was ever found.  I told my husband that, overall, I’d found our 25-minute exposure to high culture more interesting than I’d anticipated.  The story line was intriguing, but it was hard to follow the plot with all the screaming and singing going on in the background.  Couldn’t they just give it a rest?

My husband said the screaming and singing was kind of the whole point of opera.  He also said he’d found it less interesting than he’d anticipated.  I think we’re finished with opera — but you can’t say we didn’t try.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read more about lowbrows in a highbrow world

3 comments… add one
  • Cindy A

    Never seen an opera and still feel complete.

  • Craig

    Ooooh Ruth,
    this is not good. Just barely a month in and you are already throwing in the towel on a mainstay of Manhattan. What is going to happen when you are sitting in the audience at The Kitchen and one of the performers accosts you with a goldfish he swears wrote the dialogue of tonights performance?
    I forget which one you are supposed to suspend, so just suspend belief and disbelief both.

  • ruthpennebaker

    Thank you, Cindy.

    Craig — We spent 25 long minutes at this performance.  I hardly call that throwing in the towel.

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