Nothing happened in the opera. People fell in love, and then money was a problem, then, in my favorite part (spoiler) a pretty girl dies of exhaustion (not as good as TB but not bad). We all sat and watch someone else be irresponsible. Fall in love, get thrown into jail. You could do that! Well not you. You can watch. All these obviously uptight people sat quietly in the dark as characters did stupid things, so we could want to do them, or feel we had done them, or wonder if we could.
Except the Italian couples who sat near me, I assumed they sneaked away somewhere to fuck at intermission. They came back and the woman sat in the man’s lap and they rattled on saying nothing I could understand.
I was at the opera in time to admire the old-lady jackets and gaudy jewelry in the gift shop. The opera, though marketed as this thing for rich people, is actually trashy at its core. Like New York, with all its aspirations to refinement, is always is a little salty, sweat and spit and hard w’s.
I also had time to pee, which was so unlike me. I had time to wait in a long line, look with distress on the plastic straight from CVS soap dispenser on the counter of the opera. I had paid $25 for my ticket, but my ticket was worth $250, you see. As was I.
There were two intermissions, the first one I used to pee again (I wasn’t feeling that hydrated, but I suppose I was), and then to sit in my seat waiting for the chimes at any moment, I couldn’t believe how long it took, finally the woman sitting next to me came back also, and I asked her about it.
“It’s a really long intermission, isn’t it?” I said.
“It is,” she said. “Thirty-six minutes. It’s awkward when all the acts are different lengths.”
Which made me wonder how many times she had seen this opera.
These are the people at the opera: young couple on first and last fancy date; monthly double date with women wearing pants and men in work suits; the New Yorkers you see in movies except not beautiful people, just regular looking people; music nuts; Europeans.
Which was I? All I could be was “music nut,” but perhaps I was more “likes to dress up,” and “feels taller in beautiful buildings,” or “open to salvation through art as offered.”
The staircase circles as a hawk does, under the glitter light fixtures and the Chagalls. I stopped on a landing to tell a woman I loved her dress, the dress was black lace with mysteriously starting and stopping nude lining, and she said she loved my dress, too. “You have to do it up here, because you can, right?” she said. “You have to pull out all the stops.”
“Oh, yes,” I said.
Between the last two acts, the readers that show the words in English said, “SHORT PAUSE,” telling us to stay put, we were about to do more ritual, sit tight. Wait.
My favorite thing is the sets. The Puccini is fine, I prefer Mozart operas for music, but Puccini, sure, is sex on the beach.
The lead wore a leather jacket in the first act, and it made me sick with lust. Or maybe it was his enormous lungs. Who has lungs like that?
There was a guy in our row, past the young woman, and he looked at me in such a way I thought I could have talked to him and probably gotten a drink, if I felt like talking to someone, so suddenly I didn’t at all.
There are two patches of the gold, of the ceiling, of the opera house, places where it is flaking and looks as bad as a the ceiling over the subway stairs, where it slowly falls in, blisters and flakes in on us.
I ran into a friend at the second intermission, and it reminded me of the first time someone I knew saw me on the street in Manhattan, and I thought, this is what it would be like to belong here, for this to be a place to you, and not a dream.
My dress was strapless, and it felt too bare. I kept my jacket on, except when the curtain was up, and the house lights down, when only the woman sitting next to me could see my shoulders were bare.
When Manon died, in her lover’s arms, in the wasteland, her hair mussed, we held our breath before we applauded.
Image: necklace, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Metropolitan Museum of Art.