A Night at the Opera

By dabeagle


I waited nervously in the lobby, the show having let out some time ago. Most of the patrons had made their way to their cars, a very few stalwart souls stood still in the shadow of the theatre, discussing the performance and possibly wondering what the new season would bring some ten months off. The theatre was small, and unique as it stood in a state park, intimate would be the word to describe it properly and it was home to one of the few opera companies in the area. Sure the city opera company traveled here for the summer on occasion, but most of these players were local, at least the chorus.

Opera's were not exactly my cup of tea, but I have to admit seeing someone you knew, if even just a little made the whole show take on new meaning. I guess I have my mother to thank in this instance, though I don't wonder if she'd be pleased or not. She has always been at the center of my cultural development, even though her love of opera and foreign languages didn't pass on to me, she did her darndest. In fact, truth be told, this story actually begun when I was just a lad, in grammar school still, and it began with a local high school production of a play.

Well, in actuality I guess it's an operetta, by an English duo called Gilbert and Sullivan. The show was staged by the local high school, and they were actually renowned for their dedicated and talented theatre department, and that night was no exception. The whole production was run by the students with a token administrative person as advisor, other than that they made all their own sets, costumes and set rehearsals. Plus they had to maintain a passing average to be involved in school activities, such as the play.

It was definitely a night of magic and memory, memory so good that it became mythical in my minds eye. I guess the best way to explain it would be if your mother made a favorite dish and, of course, you loved it, no one could ever quite duplicate the taste. In actuality, it's the emotion, the moment itself which cannot be redone, and so nothing else quite matches up.

The name of the show was H.M.S. Pinafore and it was a farce from the start as the English sailors sang good morning to their captain, and a right good captain too, and the captain sung the greeting in return. This led to a period of the word, only called the 'big, big d' being discussed as something the captain never, well hardly ever, said. It was also said that the captain was hardly ever sick at sea, which struck me funny as well. The story went on to tell about star crossed lovers, the 'Ruler of the Queen's Navy' who had never before been to sea, much less had any knowledge of ships at all, and his entourage. Imagine if you will, a horde consisting of the Admiral's sisters, cousins and Aunts. There were enough of them to stretch from one side of the stage, err, deck to the other in their brightly colored dresses and matching parasols. Good music and great song lyric, bitingly funny and tongue firmly planted in cheek, it entertained in a new way for this lad.

For many years that night was replayed in memory, always grand, always on key, and never on a submarine.

Let me explain.

My mother and I both loved the original play that we had seen, and so when we saw it playing somewhere we flocked to see it, to relive that night when I was a lad and she had yet to see her first gray hair, at least to my recollection. Once we drove some obscene distance to take in a show, we were just a tad late as it was about ten miles past the middle of nowhere, and when we entered the theater we were extremely excited. We purchased our tickets and were admitted to a room that could only be called cramped, metal chairs were all that we could sit on, and the sailors were singing and pouring out of the hatch of a submarine. In case I didn't make it clear the play is set on a wooden sailing ship at dock, certainly not in the modern navy. Though I am quite certain that someone could be placed in charge of the Navy that knew nothing of ships, to be sure, after all they know nothing of how to treat people, but that’s another tale.

We left in disgust and disappointment, sadly enough. Never were we able to find a show to rival the original from my youth and in my minds eye it had achieved that legendary status that can not be matched in your adult life.

That was until last year. My mother calls to tell me all about this Opera Company, and that they were performing in the little theatre and she had tickets for us to see H.M.S. Pinafore. Naturally, I cleared my schedule and picked my mother up for the performance. We chatted idly as I drove the forty minutes to our destination, the first time in a long while that my mother and I had done much just the two of us, and we chatted in a lively fashion about how we hoped this version would measure up, and also caught up on what was new and interesting in our lives at the moment.

As I said the theatre is in a state park, set far back from the main county route that ran north and south through this horseracing town. Its claim to fame, the town that is, is that part of the Triple Crown is run here each year. Naturally the town is steeped in flowers and horse paraphernalia during the summer time in preparation for the horse racing season. People even moved out of town for the month and rented their homes for two reasons.

One was that they could get away from all the traffic and the bustle of the tourists and bettors that dominated the landscape for the month of August, but reason two was that many of those same bettors would pay princely sums for houses for the month, as much as three thousand in some cases, those that were close to the track and city nightlife.

Just to the south is the state park, loaded with its own history. A bottling plant exists there and the water from its natural springs is still bottled and sold to this day. A dance museum and, of course, our little theatre were also contained as well as a golf course and long green patches just right for sunning ones self during the summer months.

The opera company had a good reputation, and as such the seats my mother had procured weren't together. I ended up on the right side, right up against the wall. My mother was closer to center and we agreed to meet at the intermission. Our timing was pretty good as I only had a few minutes to flip though the program before the house lights dimmed three times to announce the show preparing to start. It's an interesting custom in theatres, the lights dim to let people know it's time to get their keesters in the seats if they don't want to miss anything.

Music concerts aren't like that, everyone shows up late so as to miss the opening act most of the time, at least I do.

Of course that isn't always good, I went to see Matchbox 20 in this same park, in a different venue, and missed Train. Ah well, such is life.

The house lights went down and the conductor stepped from the wings in the upper level of the stage. In case that doesn't make sense the orchestra is located on the balcony level, above and behind the actors. The crowd welcomed the conductor with applause and he bowed before turning and putting the orchestra into the ready position, and the music flowed.

It was well done from the start as the music sounded sharp, clear and powerful. The crew was in position and began to move about the deck, swabbing and being busy. The captain appeared and the crew and captain greeted one another in song and it soared, and that's when it happened. One of the chorus, a sailor complete with white Cracker Jack uniform stood in ranks with the rest of the crew and I was mesmerized to the point of distraction. The operetta progressed and I kept a watchful eye for the sailor, spying him many times as he sang in chorus with his crewmates.

At the intermission I pawed through the program in an attempt to see who the fellow's name was, but the chorus was not listed inside. I looked at one picture after another in frustration, seeking the open face with the patrician nose. He stood, I would venture to guess, at five eleven or maybe even six foot, dark blond hair and pale skin like cream before it joins the coffee, and a small burst of color on the cheekbones, though I guess that could just be makeup couldn't it?

My mother and I chatted at intermission, standing outside in the fading glow of the sunshine coming through the trees and talked excitedly about how well the play was being done and how pleased we were to have found a production that lived up to memory, not an easy task I should remind you.

The second half was more of the same, soaring music, powerful and voices uniting in harmony. At last the show drew to a close, and the magical moment of my childhood had been relived and thoroughly enjoyed. I was sorely tempted to go congratulate my sailor, but propriety won out and my mother and I walked back to my truck. I did tell her, however, about the fellow and that had I been traveling on my own that I might have stayed behind to introduce myself, probably out of silliness, but I suppose we all have those silly moments where we embarrass ourselves in front of people we'd desperately like to impress. Well, maybe desperate is a little severe.

Time passed and life returned to normal, the thought of the sailor fading into sweet memory and thought of less and less. I resumed my daily routine of work and stopping out for the occasional drink and singing a few karaoke songs before heading home for the night. I work retail so there is always something to do, from cleaning to organizing to figuring out which employee is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. I don't know if you have ever done the karaoke thing, but I can tell you this, there actually are some good singers out there. Sure they try and sing like the original for the most part, and that's usually safest anyways, but there are a few good ones. There are also some who are awful beyond belief, but hey, when your audience is a room full of drunks, what does it really matter?

The place I head to has a group of theatre students on Monday nights, and an instructor who comes with them. I get the impression he is akin to a mentor and friend, many times singing with them and encouraging them along. One sings the Rocky Horror song 'Sweet Transvestite' and let me tell you what, I have never seen the movie, but if Tim Curry makes facial expressions like this guy, it has to be hysterical. In fact I don't want to see the original anymore; I am convinced that it can't be done any better.

So this little group, they do a wide variety of songs, both show tunes and popular and some that are simply classic. Classic, in musical terms, means old. Like Tony Bennet old. There was one other I should mention in this group who sang, and he did old songs most often, and one of his best was 'Love Changes Everything', his voice was soft yet carried a strength that only showed when he reached portions of the song that demanded it, his voice booming and then falling into gentle melody.

It was a pleasure to listen when it was his turn, and let's be honest it wasn't exactly difficult to pay attention to the singer either. He was somewhat tall, darkish blond hair and clear brow. His smile was generous and suited his face well, and of course I have mentioned the voice already.

The group rotated, some not coming in for weeks and others being regular like clockwork, and I usually went home about midnight, partially because I had to work, but also because that was the point in the night when the hookups started and I wasn't interested in that. Don't get me wrong, George Michael said it best 'sex is good, sex is fun, sex is best when it's one on one' but a one night stand? Not really my style. So I followed my routine for a while, and of course personal life interfered and I eventually became an irregular customer.

The summer gave way to fall, and then it too succumbed to time and became winter. Winter faded into spring and finally summer was upon us again. Summer is a favorite time for me, mostly because people wear fewer clothes. Go ahead; deny that you agree with that assessment!

My mother called in to invite me to the opera, something in French with subtitles at the little theatre and, because I don't do enough with my mom, I went.

As I pulled to one of the many entrances to the park I saw that they were taking a five dollar fees for parking in the park, and I bit my lip in frustration as I was dead broke at the moment. I drove further on and came to a second entrance, and there was no guard shack there so I proceeded to the twisty piece of asphalt known as the Avenue of the Pines, named for the towering pine trees that lined the street like silent natural guardians. I found a place to park and scanned the crowd for my mother and her room mate. I spotted her with her room mate and a few friends that she had met through all the shows that she attended on a pretty regular basis. I was introduced around and we headed into the little theatre.

This Opera was called the Daughter of the Infantry, which could also make a good porno title I guess. Can’t be any worse than ‘Slamming Granny in the Fanny’, though I have a hard time keeping a straight face when I hear that one. This woman is supposed to have been raised by this infantry division, and of course falls in love, thus the trouble.

It defied logic as the opening scene showed villagers sighing in relief that the enemy had been driven off, yet the rest of the opera, for the most part, took place in the town and the invading soldiers were there! When I asked someone more knowledgeable about this I was told to throw logic out the window when dealing with opera, it ruins the whole effect if you attempt to sort it all out.

That wasn't the interesting part though. Right from the start I recognized the sailor, of course this time he wasn't in uniform. At least not at first, he started as a peasant in the town, then became one of the enemy soldiers and finally became a High Lord of some sort, or perhaps only a gentleman towards the end of the show. They really should have picked a better wig for the last scene, really it so detracted from him. In any case, the show went on and I found myself madly trying to recall where I had seen his face before, besides the previous show of course, because I was dead sure I had indeed seen him elsewhere, the face was just too familiar.

It was like having a name on the tip of your tongue and I was determined to worry the information out of my rusted steel trap of a mind and remember where I had seen him other than on stage. About ten minutes before the intermission it hit me; he was the singer form karaoke! I had seen him so many nights singing 'Love Changes Everything' and never realized he was the sailor form HMS Pinafore! Of course if I had a uniform fetish I might have pictured him in a sailor suit I suppose, but I don't so I didn't.

At the intermission I excitedly informed my mother of my discovery and resolved to say hello after the show. Watching the opera was much more enjoyable with the knowledge in my brain that I had solved the mystery, and that I would at least say hello and offer congratulations. It also made the opera more fun to know a player in the cast, even if it wasn't a personal knowledge.

After the final bow I walked to the front of the theatre and met my mothers group, who were discussing the performance. I told my mother that I planned to congratulate the young man, and she desired to do so as well, and so we headed for the dressing room area and waited as one cast member after another began to appear and depart. One face after another looked glad to see us, as if they were expecting to be congratulated, and then their faces relaxed or outright fell as they departed in the knowledge that we weren't waiting for them. I at last asked a man working the door if my karaoke friend could be let know that he had some well wishers. A moment later he appeared with that awful wig still in place, but greeted us both warmly as he too recognized me form the karaoke. We chatted idly before my mother began to make noises about getting back, and I said my goodbyes with an agreement to say hello at karaoke next time.

As we headed to the front of the theatre I felt pleased to have solved the puzzle and spoken to the sailor, as I thought of him, when I realized that there was a nagging feeling in the back of my head. I puzzled and puzzled until my puzzler was sore, as a much wiser man than I once said, and then hit on the reason for my discomfit.

What was just saying hello? True it was more than I had done previously, but to what avail? To say hello in a smoky bar in a few weeks when his show run was over? I resolved to wait and ask him out to coffee at the least, it was an opportunity, a real chance for a connection that exceeded bars and the simple hook up mentality that ran rampant there, it also exceeded the casual pat on the back for the performance delivered.

The cool mid-summer breeze rakes through my hair, cut short for ease rather than style, and the growing shadow of the theatre stretches out before me, covering a portion of the lawn and the poured steps in front. Lights from inside make the pillars throw shadows of themselves into the fading day, and the lobby is largely empty. Most cars are now gone, just a few stragglers chat idly and there I stand, waiting for him to come out from the dressing area so I could ask.

It shouldn't be much longer, now.

Any minute he'll be here.

I hope he says yes.

I hope.


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