“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!