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!


  1. That is so sickening, literally! As a former oncology nurse I expected to come in contact now and then with different bodily liquids and excrement and sometimes I wasn’t always prepared with gloves or mask or gown, etc, and I just “stomached” it and prayed for the best (not to be exposed to anything). But for it to happen in public is a different ballgame. I was never “germaphobic” when I practiced nursing; cautious, but not paranoid. Now I am paranoid about germs for some reason. So your story really struck a chord with me. btw, is the picture of the opera house posted anywhere?

  2. Omg this is unbelievable!!! Vomit would certainly remove the charm of the evening. I think Opera is an acquired taste and since my husband refuses to try we haven’t ventured into the arena. We have attended some concerts although the Eagles and AC/DC win out over classical any night of the week. By the way I would lobby to get a refund on your tickets. The janitorial staff might affirm your (crazy) story. Stick to dog shows?

  3. As a mother and retired nurse, I have been on the receiving end of vomit more times than I care to think about. But… The ICK factor is huge here. I would have done the same in the restroom!
    I don’t care for opera, this would have been the death knell for certain!

  4. Dunno exactly why but I’m thinking of the old Saturday fright flic matinees now. During the horror heyday, studios competed with in-theater special effects. While “House on Haunted Hill” played, blood dripped and a rope dropped from the theater ceiling. During “The Tingler,” someone in a day-glo blue spinal cord costume ran up and down the aisles. And so on. You don’t think the Santa Fe Opera…. Naaaa!

  5. Bleck! How horrible! But don’t quit. Brad and Cliff have introduced me to scenes, music and scripts I would have never know and truly amazed to see. Come to one of the SD operas, you won’t be disappointed!

  6. Sorry to hear about your experience. I have been going to opera for years-Kennedy Center, New York metropolitan Opera, San Francisco, San Jose, and most recently, Santa Fe. I have not had this kind of experience. (Knock on wood!!). Of course, I liked Kennedy Center and New York, the best. I just hoped this experience did not stop you from seeing the opera again.

  7. Aw, Miranda, give it a fair chance! It isn’t the OPERA that made that idiot woman barf all over you. And the Santa Fe house is in my admittedly limited experience the coolest in the world. Try something more obscure or avant garde next time– the SFO does well by them., and you can see the standards anywhere.

    Of course I can’t promise to buy out your $150 a seat tickets if you are disappointed again, but maybe if you get cheaper ones…


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