Two Dramas – My First Opera Experience


Our minds work in mysterious ways. My first Opera experience last Friday became more interesting because of a side-drama went on in addition to Rossini¡¯s classic opera. Bay Area Friday busy traffic, a full garage, running in the Opera hall at the last minute, a confident usher that assumed too much, plus an first time Opera-goer could actually produce another comedy in addition to the one on stage–whom Rosina will ended up marry, Dr. Bartolo or Lindoro?

Last summer during the free ¡°Opera in the Park¡± performance in Golden Gate Park, we signed up for opera tickets at a great rate – two for one. Gui filled out the form and got two pairs of ticket, one pair for her and one for me. It averaged $20 per ticket.

The tickets we ended up with were for Barber of Seville at 8pm on Jan. 9th, 2004.

Last Friday I got off work earlier than usual at 5:30pm so I could have time to fight the traffic going back to east bay, picked up mom, and then barfed down a peanut butter sandwich while continued fighting traffic going north to the City. By the time I dropped mom off at the Opera house, it was fifteen minutes before eight. I fished one ticket out of my purse and gave it to mom; told her to go straight in, don¡¯t wait for me. Gui and Matthew should¡¯ve been there already.

I thought I still had plenty of time since the Performing Arts Parking Garage was merely two blocks away. Unfortunately there was a long line of cars waiting to get in. By the time I slowly moved up the line at turtle speed, the garage put up a ¡°Garage is Full¡± sign. I had no choice but to circle around and looking for parking spaces elsewhere. Eventually I parked in the Civic Center garage. It was five minutes before eight, and the Opera house was four long blocks away. I started running in my long wool skirt, trying not to trip. It was drizzling lightly.

I dashed in the front door, all out of breath. The gentleman took my ticket told me ¡°on the left¡±. I walked in the lobby, and saw there were two entrances on the ¡°left¡±, one was stairs going up, and another was a door way on the same level. Since this was my first opera and I never fully grasped all the different classes of opera/symphony hall seats, I had no clue where ¡°Balcony¡± was supposed to be. I decided not to climb the stairs before I figured out where my final destination was. I walked toward the formally dressed ladies and gentlemen holding programs at the left door way, thinking they would send me away if I didn¡¯t belong here.

A middle-aged gentleman with a smoothly trimmed mustache greeted me, ¡°Would you need help finding your seat, Ma¡¯am?¡± ¡°Yes, please.¡± He looked at my ticket and started walking down the isle toward the front of the hall. He stopped by two empty seats on the forth row from the orchestra and gestured for me to seat. I couldn¡¯t believe my eyes, first of all, wow! $20 could buy such nice seat?! Secondly, where is Mom and where are Gui and Matthew? My confusion showed, and I frowned, ¡°Are you sure this is my seat?¡± The nice gentleman seemed a little offended that I doubted his knowledge of the theatre layout. After all, who am I to question him? He pointed the numbers on the seat, ¡°Yes, of course, G123¡±. I saw the 123 engraved on the copper plate and had to seat down to satisfy the stern looking gentleman. He placed a copy of the program in my hand, ¡°Enjoy the show!¡± and walked away. ¡°Thank you!¡± I nodded. In my mind I was screaming ¡°Jesus!! I lost my mom!¡±

Gui and Matthew might be late, but where was Mom? Could it be that Mom was still waiting for me outside, and I was in too big of a hurry to notice her? Could it be that Mom somehow lost the ticket as she was crossing the street, since it was windy and drizzling? I stood up and walked up the isle and left the hall. ¡°Ma¡¯am, you don¡¯t have much time, we are going to shut the door.¡± Someone was yelling after me. I looked back, it was the same one who guided me to my seat, and I apologized, ¡°Sorry, I know, it¡¯ll be just a second.¡± I walked in the lobby and there was no one. I looked through the glass doors at the front of the theater and didn¡¯t see mom either. The bell started ringing. I hurried back to my seat. Gui and Matthew hadn¡¯t replace their cellphone since they last their last one. So they could contact me but I couldn¡¯t reach them. My cell phone stayed silent.

I¡¯ve been warned plenty of times that if you didn¡¯t make it to the show before they shut the door, you would end up watching the first half on a tiny TV-set. Not exactly the kind of first-Opera-Experience I had in mind.

I love musicals, but Opera always seemed rather intimidating to me. I always imagined it consists only of glamorously dressed rather ¡°large-boned¡± ladies and gents singing in foreign languages. Gui told me that nowadays Opera has English subtitles.

Once the singing started, that was the first thing I started looking for, subtitles. Somehow I expected it to be right below the stage, kind of like a foreign movie format on DVD. There was nothing. I noticed there were two narrow boards hanging on either side of the stage in mid-air. They were currently posting the words ¡°Be Quiet¡±. I thought it was used to tell the audience to be quiet.

Meanwhile, another thread was still nagging me in the back of my mind. What happened to Mom, Gui, and Matthew? Could it be that our seats were not together? Oh my god! I suddenly had a vague recollection of some conversation between Gui and I regarding seats not being together and Gui asked me which ones I would want and I said why don¡¯t you keep the ones that were together and I would take the other two. So maybe that was it! Aha! I happened to give mom the ticket that was together with Gui and Matthew and I ended up with the loner seat. Immediately I felt better and settled to enjoy the show.

From the corner of my eyes, I noticed something flashed, I looked up. ¡°Be Quiet¡± now changed to a different line. So, it WAS the subtitle, it just happened that the first line of this entire Opera was ¡°Be Quiet¡±. Ha!

It was a modern production of Barber of Seville. The setting was basically inside and outside a present-day upper middle class two story suburbia house with high ceilings, clean and sharp lines and sparsely placed modern furniture. Even though the cast still wore ancient Italian attires, they used many modern props such as a motorcycle. It was more like a musical singing in the classic style in Italian. Not knowing the story before hand made the show even more intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed my nice seat. I could see sweat rolling down actor¡¯s forehead, and almost count their eyelashes. 🙂

During intermission I walked in and out of the crowd trying to see a familiar face. I even walked upstairs, through the box seats and upper balcony lobby. No sign of them. My cell phone remained quiet.

Right before the second act was about to start, I noticed my cell phone¡¯s message light turned red. I had just enough time to listen to the message before the curtain was up. It was from Matthew and they were worried about me. So Gui also thought our seats were together? That was odd because Gui always had better memories than me and she usually won¡¯t forget details like this. Anyway, it was good to know that they were here and Matthew also left detailed instructions on where to meet after the show. Matthew didn¡¯t mention that my mom was with them, but he was specifically inquiring my whereabouts, so I felt more certain that mom was probably with them.

The second half was much shorter and it was equally hilarious. Our ¡°Rosina¡± had a beautiful voice, smooth and full. She was my favorite. The stage design was clever and interesting. The model house could rotate 360 degrees on stage, at various times, the audience was presented with various characters performing various tasks in each segregated space that was naturally situated in different rooms of the house. It reminded me of Mi¡¯s idea of photographing ¡°special separation¡±, such as a model in a shop window and next to it was a stair led up to an unknown place; or as the subway train was in station, one gets to see the people in the train and people walking on platform through the open door. Here you could see Dr. Bartolo was lecturing Rosina in the downstairs¡¯ living room, meanwhile, Figaro was flirting with the maid on the upstairs laundry room. It seemed to be unique to stage performance, enriched the moment and completed the picture in one go.

As the audience filed into the streets, I met up with Mom, Gui and Matthew. We had a good laugh about it and I told them I was seated in the ground level and we apparently had separate seats. Gui was noticeably surprised because she distinctly remembered that our seats were together. While I told her my recollection of the conversation we had about dividing the seats, she seemed half-convinced. Anyway, it didn¡¯t matter anymore. Everyone was well and we all enjoyed the show. I only wished I could have given my seat to mom during the second half.

It was late, close to 11:35pm. As we got off the Bay Bridge, South 880 was warped up in a thick fog. I was tired and tense. We got home a little after midnight.

The next morning, I became more suspicious of our seats. I was wondering whether someone made a mistake and gave us a good seat by mistake, because there was an empty seat next to me and another one next to mom. So I thought maybe our seats number somehow looked similar and the person mailed them made a mistake? I asked mom for her ticket stub and placed it next to mine. Now it was my turn to get shocked! My ticket was ¡°Balcony G 123¡±, and mom¡¯s was ¡°Balcony G 121¡±!

The only one who made a mistake was the gentleman who led me to ¡°Orchestra G 123¡±. And I was naïve enough to believe it was ¡°Balcony G 123¡±. And it happened to be empty. It was not entirely his fault really, it was awfully late and he assumed I knew where I was going. Or maybe I looked like I knew where I was going. Haha! The most funny part was how subconsciously my mind conjured up the logical explanation ¡°why? Of course, we must had separate seats!¡± and it went so far as to make up an non-existent conversation between Gui and I regarding the dividing of the four tickets. How did that faulty memory ever get there? Was that a dream?

There you have it; the two dramas intermingled within my first Opera Experience. Kind of like those characters each branched out in his/her own plot in separate rooms of the house on stage¡­

5 thoughts on “Two Dramas – My First Opera Experience

  1. It is a delight to read your account of your first Opera experience. It reminded me of my first opera at the Met in 89. It was ¡°Fledermaus¡± sung by Thomas Allen and Thomas Hampson. I was so late and the usher took pity on me and let me sit in a box (the box seats are the only seats that you can get out and come back during the performance). I was just a student then and could only afford the family circle tickets. Somehow my first Met experience was just wonderful.
    I went to the Met on Dec 30 for ¡°The Barber of Seville¡±. It was the same John Cox production I saw more than ten years ago with the rotating stage. The main attraction is the sensational young tenor, Juan Diego Florez. He was very good, but not as good as his recordings. My husband could not understand why I wanted to see the same opera. The reason is always the singers.
    What do you think of Mr. Hampson¡¯s singing? He sang Figaro, right? My first ¡°barber¡± was also sung by Mr. Hampson. I always think he is a better Count Almaviva (as in the Marriage of Figaro). Mr. Hampson is the reigning American baritone. The Met gives him a new production of Don Giovanni this spring. For me, the best baritone is the Siberian. Mr. Hvorostovsky¡¯s trademark is his intensity. He is going to have a recital in San Francisco with the San Francisco symphony in April. Maybe it is worth to check it out.

  2. VT,

    It is such a pleasure to read your comments. 🙂 A Box! That was wonderful!
    Hmmm¡­ Maybe that usher did take pity on me, too. 🙂 Since I was in such a hurry running around from work to home to the City, I didn¡¯t really dress up to the standard based on my quick survey at those evening gowns surrounding me and the potent fragrance of Chanel No. 5 in the air throughout the performance.

    Mr. Hampson¡¯s singing was good (much better than Matthew Polenzani¡¯s Count Almaviva), but his acting was even better. It was a little distractive for me since I could see his vivid expressions on stage so clearly. When Joyce DiDonato started singing, however, I felt this tinkling sensation down my spin, and I was bathed in her voice. Maybe it was just the Mezzo soprano style versus Baritone rather than actors¡¯ actual singing skills. Probably female¡¯s higher voice caught my attention more easily? I definitely should listen to more Opera first. It is too soon for me to make any fair judgment.

    Wow! Mr. Hvorostovsky is coming to SF?! I will definitely look him up and see whether there is still tickets. Thank you for the information! 🙂

  3. The San Francisco audience put the New York audience to shame. New York audience hardly dressed up for the operas. Last time I was there I made a little extra effort. I brought along a Judith Leiber evening bag in the shape of a pig. After all it was one day before the New Year¡¯s Eve. My husband joked that the pig made such a stunning debut at the Met since so many people were looking at it.

    Here is the information of Mr. Hvorostovsky¡¯s recital. Date: Sunday April 4, 2004. Time 7:30 PM . You can get the tickets by calling: 415 864 6000 or log on to the SF symphony site at http://www.sfsymphony.org. I wish I could be there. For consolation, I will go to see him in ¡°The Queen of Spades¡± in Feb. The role is very small. He will be singing with Domingo. (actually competing with Maestro Domingo for the love of the soprano, needless to say, the baritone always loses even it is in the form of Hvorostovsky).
    I just don¡¯t want to set your expectation too high and end up being disappointed. The preference for singers is very subjective.

    By the way, have you seen the new TV production of ¡°Tian Long Ba Bu¡±? I hadly watched any Chinese movies, let alone Chinese TV series. But after watching ¡°Lan Yu¡±, I was totally blown away by the performance of Hu Jun. Amazing. He is a very good actor.

    Jean’s Reply:

    San Francisco is in general a very casual town. But in recent years, especially during the dot com boom, this town is getting more and more formal. One example is now when i made it to the night-life scenes in the City, more and more people started wearing black!! When it used to be a burkenstock place! We’ve been blaming all the gold-digger New Yorkers came from the east, haha! 🙂 j/k.

    Now i’m extremely curious what a Judith Leiber Pig bag looks like? A Google search yield pictures of a Judith Leiber Cat Bag, Elephant Bag, Butterfly, Roses, and other interesting shapes. no Pig. 🙁

    Thank you for the detailed information on Mr. Hvorostovsky¡¯s recital. I’d like to listen to him even just because of that article in the New Yorker. I will report back on my experience, for sure. 🙂

    No, I haven’t seen ÌìÁú°Ë²¿. And I’m dreading the day when it makes into our house. I would probably end up with no sleep what so ever till I finish watching them all. Ah! The addictiviness of Martial Arts stories…

  4. The article in the New Yorker did a wonderful job. It was a very well researched and well written piece. Basically it told you almost everything you needed to know about him. I had a dvd of his Moscow recital in Spring 2003. It was quite phenomenal. He was totally at home(with his blood sucking audience). At the end of the performance you could see all those big Russian men in tears. He must be SO PROUD. The performance will be released later this year by his record label Delos according to a very reliable source. I hope his SF recital will be as exciting. I will go to his Los Angeles recital. It will be his first solo recital in LA. I was very disappointed that all the front row seats were sold out.

    It is such a sham that those gold digging New Yorkers brought their black clothing to SF. Personally I don¡¯t like wearing black. My husband saw a picture of the HK movie ¡°Infernal Affairs III¡± with the four lead actors all in black and he asked who those Mafia men were. The funny thing is the men in the ¡°Q-club¡± hardly wear any black. Just look at the Fab-Five form Queer eyes. Aren¡¯t they supposed to be better dressers? Well, who cares? I am sure that there will be quite a few ¡°Q-club¡± members at Hvorostovsky¡¯s recital. I am looking forward to reading your account on that.

    Jean’s Reply:
    haha! It took me a while and some explainations from friends before I realized what you meant by “Q-Club” members. I’m sure they were everywhere, it is, afterall, San Francisco! The Headquarter of Q-club!
    I’ll keep you posted on my experience at his recital. Too bad that they chose Davies Symphony hall as the venue, it is so huge! 🙁 I might end up seeing nothing but a blur…. :(((

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