A matinee at the opera

Written in response to: Write about a character learning to trust their intuition.... view prompt


Coming of Age Contemporary Bedtime

Once, when they were still quite young, she had bought on an impulse, tickets for the Magic Flute. They were in Atlanta. Patrick and Tammy were with their grandparents for the weekend. She and Peter had been invited to her cousin’s Saturday marriage celebration. The trip back needed them to be at the airport at six p.m. Sunday. As for the Flute, it was a matinee with a one o’clock starting time. It would all be finished in time for them to make it to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

Sophie’s wedding had been nothing if not an extravaganza of bad taste that was a perfect example of the countless ways of throwing money away. That high a degree of silliness wouldn’t have been achieved by her aunt alone. She must have been helped for her exuberance to manifest itself in such a frenzy of absurd spending. Well, money was like alcohol. One better be able to handle it. Angela was soon to learn the culprit’s name. While they had waited to get inside a thirty-five feet long limo, her ecstatic relative had pointed at an overweight lady as she did receive help in penetrating into another strange-looking vehicle. She was Florice Merriment and she owned a business that went under the name:


Do it once

Do it well.

Do it big.

Do it expensive.

The first time is always worth remembering.

While caracoling on the dance floor of the four-star hotel that was hosting the celebration and Peter working hard not to make a fool of himself, she told him about her Amadeus initiative. He had had a few drinks and she might find him the more receptive of the idea for that very reason. He hadn’t said much as he was busy counting steps and bumping into their fellow dancers. Then, they were getting back to their table. A less graciously predisposed mind than hers, for all Peter’s clumsiness as a waltzing partner, would have seen in the tramping of her feet some deliberate disposition of his part. He sat and she could perceive relief in his eyes. At last, he addressed her:

—“This is an opera, isn’t it?”

—“Yes,” she had said.

—“Those things are endless. What about our trip back home?”

—“It starts early in the afternoon. We will be out of there around four at the latest.”

—“And you got us tickets?” As if he wouldn’t have believed her capable of such a deed.

—“It will be a good way to spend the day and this will give us the opportunity to visit the Atlanta Center for the Arts.”

Peter stared at her, a sort of half smile forming on his lips. It didn’t stay there long though and she couldn’t figure what passed through his brain. Luckily, he hadn’t asked how much it cost her to get into Atlanta newly built opera house. Instead, he had pronounced with a wink thrown in her direction:

—You won’t ask me to dance anymore, will you?

They had made it to the Center. Angela was very excited about the prospect of listening for the next few hours to mostly older bulky performers hollering love duets with stentor voices and ending up dying killed either by rivals or by their own hands. Such was her husband’s take on the genre anyway. He was twenty-nine years old. He didn’t know much. Angela for her part was sure ready to learn as she was babbling non-stop about how this trip could be seen as a good starting point for their, up to that moment, quite lacking cultural life if one was to take out of the picture shows like the Roots miniseries. Now she argued was the time for them to look upon the Tampa art scene. Go to a concert when they were offered in that city or in St-Petersburg by both their philharmonic orchestra. And assist to Grand Opera at home as such performances were proposed in town, even in Sarasota and Orlando for the devoted amateurs who wouldn’t mind traveling a bit.

Peter sat beside Angela. He was reading something. And it wasn’t the program. He heard his wife pitch. He knew music. He had listened to a lot of the stuff at home as his old man used to read himself to sleep while tuning to the PBS 89.1 classical radio station. However, he was not yet there. One day he might. But it sure didn’t look like it would happen that afternoon in this auditorium.

Finally the lights came out, the maestro was called to the pit and the orchestra delivered the overture’s first notes. This had the advantage of slowing down Angela a bit in her scheming to become a pillar of the arts in their community. He had sat through the Flute first part looking at his watch and might have slept before it was finished because a big ruckus in the end with all of them singers yodeling their parts in a kind of very excited and disorderly confusion got him out of his torpor. This might be the final, he assumed. But he was wrong as he was made to endure another half hour of the silly nonsense. That left him ample time to reminisce the emperor Joseph II character in the movie Amadeus telling Mozart over one of the last’s masterpiece or other:

—“My dear young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It is quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.”

Now he knew what the fellow had meant. That had brought a smirk on his face or perhaps it was in appreciation of the curtain falling down, at last.

As their seats were on the second balcony in the middle of an alley, there was no way to get through the multitude of beaming opera lovers and gain a fast exit from the place. Angela was sure making a good show of hands clapping, overdoing it a bit as a matter of fact. The noise that was coming out of her display of blissful gratitude… Well, an older lady in front turned to look them over with an air of silent reprove. Then he realized that it wasn’t Angela that the woman was staring at but him, not him really but his hands that weren’t producing any sound as they were still and he was quiet. That had somehow started him up with his own display of appreciative fervor.

It took them an eternity to clear their section. Nobody was in a hurry. There were not enough stairs to go down. Those people that were part of the audience were no longer in their prime, to say the least. They moved slow and didn’t seem to care if it were to take them a lifetime to make it to street level.

He wasn’t that way. Not yet. So he fumed noiselessly. He fretted behind his wife in heroic restraint as she would ignore all the overtures in the crowd and missed opportunities to shove her way forward as he would have gladly done given half the chance. Finally, snail like, they reached the huge reception lobby. He could see the exit gates two or three hundred feet away and a patch of reasonable open space if one were to go through the left and follow the wall of the edifice.

As he made out in that direction, he sensed Angela resisting his impulsion. Worst, he saw her moving toward the center of the great hall where the throng of strollers agglomerated like a cluster of avid bargain hunters around a stand that trumpeted the sale of one record containing this afternoon production highlights.

This was too much. Still, his vain interrogative protestations were nothing to his wife’s enthusiastic errand. Obviously, it was not enough to have at great cost suffered through three hours of the Magic Flute live but now, it looked like the “chef d’oeuvre” was to be brought home.

At a price. They had some nerves these artsy folks, peddling their wares like gypsies in a bazaar. Such a prank. And him the mark that fell for it. Under his incredulous gaze, he saw his wife approach one salesperson and complete happily the transaction. Next, they navigated among the press of gawkers; he was feeling in his back their smirk and silent criticism for the sucker he felt he was. Yet Angela was elated and wisely he managed to keep his displeasure well concealed.

The day after, around six p.m., he was in his study on the second floor of their home in St-Pete. He was reading. Angela was preparing supper. Both Patrick and Tammy were playing with the next door kids outside. He could smell the flagrance of the roast cooking downstairs, thanks to his spouse judicious assiduity.

And then, there was something else. What was it that had made him lose his place on the page he was blandly staring at? He was hearing something. It was coming from their living room. It was music. It was vaguely familiar. As he was concentrating on his listening, he took more of the piece and kind of enjoyed it as when one might fancy a lake’s cold water after having suffered the first two minutes of immersion. He so liked the overpowering rhythm in the cadenzas that a couple of singers were purring in direction of each other that he couldn’t help getting out of his seat and barging down the stairs toward the kitchen.

—“What is that?” he asked Angela?

She had half her head into the oven. He could see the meat and its perfect color. Like the music that was now coming at him loud and clear. That tune was irresistible. Something inside his guts wanted to grab Angela and dance it through its stunning final. From the stove, she told him:

—“This is the duo between Papagena and Papageno.”

—“What are you talking about?” he countered?

She looked up at him, showing no surprise at his inadequate response.

—“It’s from The Magic Flute opera. I am playing the record we bought, remember?”

The record we have bought, he repeated in his head. Now he would get credited for a gesture that he would have denounced not half an hour before as a daft extravagance. He must have made an odd picture as she added:

—“What is it, honey? Is everything OK?”

—“You mean,” he mumbled… And then he added through his teeth: “How come I missed this yesterday?”

The next few weeks, he must have played those highlights ten times or more. Then, he bought the whole opera and listened to it some more. It wasn’t long after that he discovered Mozart’s big three: Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi. By that time, he was already into Verdi and when the C.D. came to life, he had already built himself a sixty-two titles vinyl collection. He had gotten through the lot and loved them all.

What he had learned from his first unwelcome encounter with the world of lyrical music was that, like many other things in life, one must keep an open mind. Give oneself a chance. As for the musical, it might translate this way: if you like anything at first hearing, you might not like it for long. On his first introduction to a musical piece, one hardly hears anything. But the mind does, though. Appreciation comes with familiarity. You listen to some work while doing something else. You do that a few times. There is no need to pay attention. In this way, the music gets into you, penetrating and growing inside you in a kind of insidious manner up to a moment when the magic operates. This is when you stop dead in your track, transfixed, because suddenly you recognize a passage, and you realize how much you like it.


The Magic Flute - Papagena ! Papagena ! & Halt ein! o Papageno, und sei klug

From the Magic Flute : a great moment !Papageno : Detlef Roth Papagena : Gaële Le Roi

December 31, 2021 23:09

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