Thursday, May 11, 2006 | Karen, my wife, asked if I was going to wear my tuxedo to the opera.
“No,” I said, “I’m going to save the tuxedo for the Met.” We already knew, when we were married last December, that one of our destinations would be the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Karen likes opera more than I do – she even had season tickets once – but what’s not to like about walking into the plaza from Columbus Avenue on a sparkling New York evening, in a tuxedo with a gorgeous woman on your arm?
“No,” I said last Saturday, “I’m going to wear my eggplant t-shirt and gray suit.” The t-shirt was a nod to Zandra Rhodes, designer of the costumes for the opera we were going to attend. To Rhodes, who has pink hair, an eggplant-purple t-shirt wouldn’t make a decent funeral shroud, but it was the best I was willing to do.
The opera was “The Magic Flute,” which opened last Saturday night at the Civic Theatre. I don’t hit many operas. I have seen “Die Fledermaus” and “Madame Butterfly,” and I would go again. At opera, you just let the music and the pageantry fold you in. No sense paying attention to the story, which is in a foreign language and written in a strange, slow-motion meter. In opera, to sing, “I love you, why don’t you love me?” takes about 20 minutes.
The tickets were a wedding present from our dear friend Sue Diaz, who knew of our Met aspirations and presented the San Diego tickets as a warm-up. We got downtown early, about 5 for a 7 p.m. curtain, parked in the Civic Center garage, and strolled across the plaza toward C Street. Already there were concessionaires and a few people milling near the theater entrance. Two or three of them were wearing pink boas, a Rhodes signature. I felt smart in my eggplant t-shirt. At least I had dressed for the party.
We walked past the Westgate and across Broadway to Dobson’s and slid right into seats at the bar. Just in time, too; half an hour later it was packed. It is just the best experience, when nice evenings work out in unstructured ways. I had not been in Dobson’s probably in 10 years, and I regretted it. It’s a great spot (“The old Press Room Bar,” I told Karen), and before we left, we had added it to a short list of our places to hit about 5, sit at the bar, have a cocktail, and then wine and something savory to eat.
At Dobson’s, Karen had a Scotch, I had a martini, and then glasses of wine, some brie, and Dobson’s mussel bisque. Satisfying, but not so that you will snooze through the big aria. Then a five-minute walk to the theater through cool night air and the sounds of the city, thinking that, for opera, San Diego is a pretty good town.
The crowd was large now, sipping drinks or coffee, talking and laughing in groups, a few tuxes and lots of pink feather boas (but no other eggplant t-shirts, that I saw), moments of civil conviviality before the kickoff. What envy the artists in the crowd could feel, for a man to compose a work of art in 1791 that in 2006 will still call citizens together to enjoy it, in polite, enthusiastic audiences of 3,000.
The production was beautifully dramatic, the costumes imaginative and colorful, the music Mozart, and the story silly and in German but fun to follow on the Interprovision above the stage. The company was both professional and good-natured. At one point they delivered a line in English. Pamino, a man trapped in a bird’s body (don’t ask), says, “I think I have the flu.” A character across stage – it might have been the hero, Tamino – says, “I hope it’s not the bird flu.” Cracked us up.
Both of the night’s big moments belonged to the Queen of the Night. First, she floated earthward from the loft in a huge cradle of crescent moon and cascading bows of purple gossamer (color of eggplant, I thought), like a brooch you would see Zandra Rhodes wearing on an airplane.
Later, she sang an aria into which Mozart had inserted a lightning series of notes placed sort of like tiny footstep leaps of faith across a yawning void. Hit them all, he is saying, live to sing another day. Miss just one, just slightly, and down you go, into the void, falling until the end of time. She hit them all. I don’t know how. Imagine a hockey goalie, stopping eight shots in three seconds, left, right, up, down, middle. And then doing it again, a couple of minutes later. At the end, she got the night’s loudest ovation.
It was a heck of an evening. The Met and New York will have to go some to match it.
Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at