My Night At the Opera

“Was that a high C or vitamin D?”  Groucho Marx as Otis P. Driftwood

Okay, I admit it.  I am a Philistine when it comes to opera.  I can’t help it.  I grew up in Houston, Texas when the acquisition of central air conditioning was a cultural zenith.  Houston, back then anyway, didn’t have opera.  It had swamp coolers and mosquitos.  It wasn’t until I got to college, and had a boyfriend from New York City, that I was invited to go to an opera—a real and very famous opera, “La Boheme”– in a famous place, The Metropolitan Opera House.   My boyfriend was well versed in the genre but neglected to give me one important piece of information—the fact that the opera would be sung in Italian.  For three hours I watched fabulously costumed singers with enormous voices waft slowly around the stage, living their Bohemian lives, building towards the climactic scene when Mimi, stricken with tuberculosis, gives her final aria, and final cough (complete with fake blood) and dies right there on stage.  I was premed and into medical realism.  She was far too fat to die of consumption and I said so.  End of boyfriend and operatic opportunity.

Fast forward forty plus years, and here I am in Santa Fe, New Mexico which boasts of having one of the finest opera houses, and opera seasons in the world.  My husband had never been to an opera, and so when he noticed an ad in our local paper for tickets forty per cent off for newcomers to New Mexico and the opera, he said, “Let’s go!”  We chose a night—last night—and an opera, “Rigoletto”, dressed up and headed out to what is surely one of the most beautiful outdoor venues in the Southwest.  We settled into our $150 per ticket Row Y seats just as the overture was starting.  After I snapped a quick phone shot of the opera house from inside, what looked like a teleprompter on the back of the seat in front of me warned me to turn off my phone, and I was thrilled to see that by pressing a button, I could read the libretto in English.  The only thing missing was the forgotten set of antique opera glasses I bought years ago on Ebay—you know—just in case I ever needed them.

Thirty minutes into the first act, Rigoletto comes home, and is fussed over by his daughter Gilda who undresses him, and helps him into a limp white garment that resembles a bib while both are singing loudly in perfect harmony.  Just as Gilda hit her high note, I heard a single muffled cough from the woman behind me, and suddenly there was a sensation of wetness on the outer aspect of my left ankle. Momentarily distracted, I glanced down my leg, thinking, “I hope that isn’t blood she coughed up,” but it was dark and the music was loud and the air was dry and caught up in the passion of the song, I quickly forgot about it.  That is, until the curtain went down and the lights went on, and the woman sitting to my left said, “Are you alright?”

I said, “Thank you but of course I’m alright—that was the lady behind me who was coughing.” Undeterred, she looked at my silk clad pants leg, and my purse sitting on the ground beside it and with a quick motion, gestured to the now empty seat and floor behind me, which was covered in vomit that had been slowly dripping down the concrete stadium wall to engulf my purse and my left shoe.  Abruptly standing, I announced to my husband that “we have to go NOW!” and once in the lobby, holding my purse delicately in front of me as exhibit A, I barreled past thirty or forty well dressed women waiting in line for the bathroom, shouting, “I don’t have to use the toilet—someone threw up on me and I need that sink RIGHT THIS MINUTE.”  The line in front of me parted like the Red Sea.

Now I am a doctor with three kids, and trust me, that was not the first time I have had a close encounter with throw up.  But winding my way back to the lobby to find hubby, I realized that I was not going back to my expensive seat at the sold out performance.  In fact, I probably was not going back to the opera at all, ever.  My husband who generally adores music was relieved.  He said, “I have discovered tonight that I really don’t like opera.”  Like I said—I am a Philistine.  You can have your Boheme and your Puccini and your high soprano operatic notes amidst shouts of “Bravo!  Brava!  Bravissimo!”   But for me—just give me the down dirty raw and emotional Broadway production of “Rent.” Without side effects.  Sorry, opera fans!

Past Lives

It’s been a tough year for me and my animals–we lost Magic, the elderly deerhound in January, and just last week, our thirty year old Quarter Horse Dash, the last of the red horses at our old place in California, Rancho del Caballo Rojo.  I am no poet, but tonight I came upon something I wrote out longhand over ten years ago after losing another red horse, and another gray dog.   I called it “Past Lives.”

The great hound sits on his small patch of lawn

Staring at the vertical lines of the white picket fence—his eyes go suddenly vacant

The small confines of his yard are gone

Instead he sees the rolling hills of a vast estate

The heather and the mountains lie beyond

 

The young ones sleep by the dying fire

Bodies and legs intertwined

An ember flashes—the spark illuminates a twitching foot, a wrinkled nose

The white stag beckons at the dark edge of the forest

In the morning the ashes smell of roasting meat

 

The old red horse looks up suddenly

His crooked white blaze a lightning bolt

His notched right ear flicks to and fro

He screams: the buffalo horses are leaving

His ghost white companion shies away in terror

 

There may be no heaven for these

The hart, the hound, the horse, the hunt

Yet they live on in the drums, in the horn, in the fire

And yet they live on in the chase.

 

A few closing notes here:

On the Deerhound:  Affectionately known as the “Royal Dog of Scotland,” it is not difficult to imagine how this breed, with its athletic, well-muscled build, came by the title. The Scottish Deerhound has a romantic past, a noble bearing, and a loving nature, so much so that Sir Walter Scott — himself the owner of deerhound named Maida — described the breed as “the most perfect creature of Heaven.

On the White Stag:  from Wikipedia–White deer hold a place in the mythology of many cultures. The Celtic people considered them to be messengers from the otherworld; they also played an important role in otherpre-Indo-European cultures, especially in the north.[1][2] The Celts believed that the white stag would appear when one was transgressing a taboo, such as when Pwyll trespassed into Arawn‘s hunting grounds.[2] Arthurian legend states that the creature has a perennial ability to evade capture, and that the pursuit of the animal represents mankind’s spiritual quest.[3] It also signalled that the time was nigh for the knights of the kingdom to pursue a quest

On the Buffalo Horse–from Mystic Warriors of The Plain, by Thomas Mail:  ” Each warrior had to have at least one horse which was trained to a fine point for buffalo hunts and warfare. It became his best and favorite, and was usually too valuable to sell or trade. He guarded it like a treasure and picketed it just outside his tipi at night. After all, his existence and future depended upon it to an amazing degree. A buffalo and war horse was trained to stop instantly at a nudge of the knees or a tug from the rawhide thong, called a “war bridle,” which was tied to the animal’s lower jaw. But more than that thong was necessary, since racing through thundering herds over rough ground that was riddled with bushes, rocks, and hidden burrows portended frequent collisions and spills for the rider, so during battles and hunts a fifteen- to twenty-foot rope was often tied around the horse’s neck so that its free end would drag behind the horse. When a falling rider seized the rope, his horse came to a sharp stop, and in a moment the man was on his feet and mounted again. Often one who had an especially valuable buffalo horse cut V-shaped notches in his ears.” My old Quarter horse Lucky came to me with a notched ear, so I always called him “my buffalo horse”.