Opera = the need for waterproof mascara and misanthropy.
Usually, I’m the most hardened cynic you’ll meet. I laugh at Titanic, sneer at The Notebook and basically scorn any of that soppy shit. Except when it comes to opera. I turn into a big blubbering baby with opera. It’s not even the sad endings that set me off. Saying that, my most embarrassing display of public weepery was a tthe end of Madame Butterfly. I cried like George Best at an AA meeting.
The Theatre Royal Brighton is a tall narrow cylinder of a theatre with a similar feel to The London Coliseum on a smaller scale with more friendly bar staff. My seat in the front row of the dress circle was excellent and felt weirdly close to the stage compared to what I’m used to in the big London theatres.
Tonight’s auditory treat was La Boheme – that’s by Puccini, you know. My first little welling up moment was during Act 1. Despite the fact that I was the youngest person in the building (staff excepting) by about 20 years and was dressed far more casually than all the olds in their crimplene and cardies, the harmonies between the two protagonists were so powerful and beautiful that it choked up even my sardonic throat. That, and the Merlot that went down the wrong hole and sent me spluttering over the front of the dress circle which earned me some very dirty looks.
My humiliation had abated by the first interval where I dried my eyes and purchased my second Merlot of the evening. The long suffering barmaid was beset by old fogies asking where their pre-ordered interval drinks were. A vision of efficiency, the large bossomed 40something barmaid remembered every name they croaked at her and handled their queries so effortlessly that I wondered why she wasn’t running the place and told her so. I then ruined this tender moment by asking her to pour my wine into a plastic beaker ere my dyspraxic (the Stephen Baldwin of the learning disability family) hands chucked the ruby nectar all over the fucking bar.
After waiting a baffling amount of time in the toilet queue (what do old ladies do in toilet cubicles?), I squeezed back into my seat next to an elderly woman who kept twitching like she was carrying on a conversation with a phantom and an old couple who gave my Dr Martins disdainful looks like the boots were going to care.
On Facebook, through the miracle of 4G, my mate suggested that I join the police force. Resisting the urge to put, “Are you on drugs?” I politely declined his offer. Then I hear it:
“I’ll be going straight to bed after this,” in a working class old lady voice that sounded like a parody of itself.
“Will you? Well, I’ll be having a G+T, putting the telly on and having a sit down,” a very similar old lady voice said.
“Oh no, I’ll not be going into the front room tonight.”
“Really? Well, my cat’s out and he’ll be asleep all day.”
I nearly choked on my Merlot again.
The next act was as touching as the first. Even the painted scenery and cumbersome looking props were barely noticed as those amazing voices rang out. How wonderful it must be to hear such a powerful and perfect sound emanating from your own mouth. The solos make my heart hurt a bit but it’s the duets that really send me over the edge.
The quietly tragic ending is in sight by the second interval. I have a strawberry ice cream. It’s not too sweet but creamy and lovely. Slowly spooning this cold, smooth delight into my mouth, I stare vacantly at the ‘safety curtain’ (whatever that means) and hear this:
“His boyfriend’s much younger than him,” in that same stereotypical Eastenders old lady voice.
“He’s 19. Or is he 20? He might be 20. He might be 21. Do you know who I mean?”
“No, not really.”
“You know, him. The older bloke and the younger bloke. He’s about 20 I think, but he could be 19 or 21.”
Oh Holy Jesus, I think, trying to focus on my phone but no one’s posted anything new on Facebook.
The last act is as sad and heartbreaking as it promised to be. Tears and snot flow as the girl sings her final note before dying an undramatic but poignant death. The male lead sings out his sorrow and regret. We all clap as rapturously as opera audiences ever do in their polite middle-class way.
“Oh, wasn’t that sweet?” That voice says, as soon as the bows are finished.