The Opera by Colin Kelly

Leslie's first exposure to opera is when she hears Ash singing an aria. She becomes obsessed with the aria, and when she decides to find out which opera it's from the task turns out to be both simple and complicated...

Leslie stood in the line in front of the Opera House ticket window. Opera was not one of her usual entertainments; this would be her first live opera performance and she did not know what to expect. Her only exposure to opera was when Ash would sing his favorite operatic aria. He refused to tell her the name of the opera, which was no surprise to her. He would just stand there, cock his head, and nod knowingly. It remained his little secret.

She had become enthralled by this aria, and she had asked James, a friend who she knew frequented the San Francisco Opera, that she had overheard the aria being sung and wondered if he knew which opera it came from. She could hum only a few bars for him, but James had instantly recognized the aria despite how terribly she had mangled the tune.

“It is,” he had told her, “the famous duet from the first act of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers. You can buy a compact disk with the complete opera. It is very approachable for anyone who is a new to opera.”

“No, no,” she had replied. I don’t have a compact disk player, and I don’t want to spend the money to buy one at this time. My position at the school district office is less secure than I would prefer, so I’m avoiding unneeded expenses.”

“Well then, Leslie,” he had said with a smile and a gleam in his eyes, “what I propose is that instead of purchasing a recording of The Pearl Fishers, that you attend a live performance at the San Francisco Opera. I’m certain that you would enjoy it immensely.”

“Oh, I have heard that going to the opera is very expensive,” she had responded. “I am sure I would not be able to afford the price of a ticket to attend a performance.”

“Nonsense!” he exclaimed, startling Leslie because of his outburst. “The Pearl Fishers the opera selected for the Christmas Holiday performances. I have season tickets for all of the fall season, which includes this Christmas Holiday performance. I would gladly ask you to accompany me to see The Pearl Fishers, but there are no open seats anywhere near where I sit in the Balcony Circle section. And,” he continued, “the price of a single ticket in that section would seriously exceed either of our pocketbooks but tickets in the upper balcony are available for considerably less cost.”

He had seen the brief flash of disappointment that had appeared on Leslie’s countenance, and recalled her comment about avoiding expenses, so he had spared her any further misery. “Leslie, the San Francisco Opera understands that the price of a ticket to a single performance is far too high for most seniors and for students. As a result, it has a limited number of seats available for what is called the Student Rush at no charge. Just imagine, tickets to the opera for free! However, what you would need to do is join the queue at the opera box office at least one hour prior to the performance, and if you are lucky you will snag one of the available tickets. We can then meet during the intermission between acts, and I will treat you to a glass of champagne and some of the delicious hors d’oeuvres they have available for purchase. How does that sound?”

Despite the anticipated considerable discomfort that would result from standing for an hour in a line on the off chance that she might or might not get a ticket to see the performance of The Pearl Fishers that day, she had decided that it was worth the time and effort. She added the matinee performance of the opera to her calendar, two o’clock in the afternoon on December twenty-second, the Thursday prior to Christmas. She had decided that she would arrive at the Opera House at fifteen minutes prior to one, that way she would hopefully arrive early enough to be near the front of the queue.

“Leslie,” James had asked, “there is one thing that makes me curious. As far as I know, you are not an opera fan. So where and when did you hear this aria? The Pearl Fishers is not a very well-known opera; it is one of Bizet’s early works and is not performed very often at the San Francisco Opera. It seems very curious that you would have overheard someone singing it.”

Leslie had decided that she would not tell James that it was Ash who introduced her to this lovely aria. That would have created derision of Ash by James. Ash certainly was not one to go to an opera. In fact, he was one that seldom ventured out of the comfort of his own domicile. She told a little white lie, that she heard it when she took a walk in her neighborhood. In reality, she had heard Ash singing this aria numerous times. He lived close enough that when he sang she could hear him clearly.

So, after nearly a month of waiting, the time for Leslie to attend her very first opera arrived. James decided to drive to the Opera House, and graciously offered Leslie the opportunity to accompany him instead of the submitting to the inconvenience of riding Muni, the bus being the only feasible alternate transportation.

James also demonstrated that he was a true gentleman, a category Leslie had observed that was in significant decline. He did so by standing at her side in the queue while she waited for the box office window to open. It had been pleasant chatting with him, and listening to his polemics about the cast and stage setting and various members of the orchestra, most of which he seemed to hold in rather low regard. He explained that the Christmas Holiday opera was selected for a family audience instead of the more serious operas that he preferred. Soon, however, James had to take his leave to work his way through the crowds milling about the lobbies and hallways of the Opera House so he would arrive at his seat in the Balcony Circle section prior to the start of the opera.

Finally, the box office window opened and the attendant put up a sign inside of the window. Leslie, despite being perhaps number twenty in line, was too far back to read what was written on the sign. She could tell, however, that it was not good news as those nearest the box office window walked away dejectedly, and the queue would move forward allowing several more to read the sign and walk away empty handed. As she moved closer to the window, she could hear a groan from each person as they read what was written on the sign. Finally Leslie was able to see the sign well enough to read: ‘No Rush Tickets Available for December 22nd Matinee’.

Oh, how disappointing! The effort of getting ready to come to the opera didn’t bother her. Neither did the time she spent standing in the queue. What did bother her was the building anticipation as she had marked off each day on the calendar, time seemingly moving forward at a glacially slow pace until finally the magic day of December twenty-second arrived.

However, the day arrived only to be crushed by some unseen and incomprehensible act of San Francisco Opera management that decided that no Rush tickets would be made available on this particular day in this week when this particular opera was going to be performed. Unfortunately, it would be performed without the presence of Leslie Gordon in today’s San Francisco Opera House audience. How sad. How irritating.

She wondered about James. He would start looking for her when she didn’t arrive at the designated lobby for the Balcony Circle patrons, with its champagne bar and hors d’oeuvres available for snacking.

Well, no use lollygagging about. Having no ticket is, in fact, having no ticket, she realized. She should now make her way home, reverting to ‘Plan B’ and taking Muni.

But the day was beautiful, and an alternate route to walk to the bus line that would take her home would be an amusing divertissement, allowing her to enjoy the pleasant summer afternoon. The gardens next to the Opera House were in full bloom, so she wandered, spending time to ‘smell the flowers’ as she walked along.

She saw a bench near the performers’ entrance to the Opera House, and it looked inviting. She decided to take a brief respite from her walk. Shortly thereafter a young man approached the bench, carrying what she recognized to be a cello case. It was typically large and bulky, and seemed that it would be very difficult to carry about.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked.

“No, please sit. Your case seems heavy and difficult to carry. I assume you play the cello?”

He sat down, and Leslie noted that he left an appropriate amount of space between them. “Thank you. Yes, the cello is not an instrument for anyone who wants to travel light, or to take on public transit.”

“Do you enjoy being part of the Opera Orchestra?”

“Oh, yes. I love opera, more than symphonies. The only drawback is that being in the orchestra I hear only part of the singing. The sound of the orchestra often overwhelms the sound of the vocalists for those of us sitting in the pit.”

“My,” replied Leslie, “I never realized that. I assume that the conductor, because of his position, is able to hear both the orchestra and the vocalists. Is that correct?”

“Yes, it is. Are you going to today’s performance?”

“Regrettably, no. I joined the queue for the free Student Rush tickets, but as soon as the box office opened a sign was posted stating that there were no Rush tickets available today. There was no explanation, but it did mean that I would miss my first opera.”

The young man sat back and looked at Leslie with a shocked expression. “This is, or would have been, the first opera performance you’ve ever attended?”

“That is unfortunately correct. It’s too bad. I was particularly looking forward to seeing The Pearl Fishers. And I was supposed to meet a friend during the intermission for a glass of champagne. He has a season ticket in the Balcony Circle for the fall schedule, which included today’s Christmas Holiday performance. Even if any seats had been available I could not have afforded the price. So, what I have been doing instead of attending an opera is walking through the Opera House gardens enjoying the beautiful flowers until I return home.”

The young man smiled. “I think I have a solution to your dilemma. As a member of the Opera Orchestra I receive two tickets to each performance. I have an extra ticket for today’s performance, and I would like to give it to you.”

He could tell that Leslie was about to express one or more of the typical objections to his offer, so he raised his hand, palm forward.

“No objections, please. If I do not give you this ticket,” as he withdrew it from his coat pocket, “it will go to waste. There are six performances of The Pearl Fishers, which means I receive twelve tickets for this one opera, and as I had said, two per performance. Having twelve tickets to distribute is more than I have opera loving friends who are not members of the orchestra, and a lack of relatives living in the Bay Area eliminates that option for me. I gave the other ticket I had for today to my landlady. This is also her first live opera performance, so you will be two newcomers sitting next to each other in the Balcony Circle. Where, I believe you said, your friend is also sitting, is that correct?”

“Yes, my friend has his seat in the Balcony Circle.” She accepted the ticket from the young man. “This is very kind of you, and I don’t even know your name. I am Leslie Gordon.”

“My name is Paulo Cervantes. It is very nice to meet you, Leslie.”

“Thank you. It is very nice to meet you, Paulo, and it has been very fortuitous for me to have met you this afternoon. You have provided me with a wonderful Christmas present, a ticket to see my first opera.”

“I have another little Christmas present for you, if you are interested. There is a free backstage tour of the Opera House prior to today’s performance.” Paulo looked at his watch. “It begins in fifteen minutes. I think you would find it very interesting, and it will give you something to talk about with your friend when you see him during the intermission.”

“Do you think I would be able to join the tour at this last minute? Are tickets required?”

“There shouldn’t be any problem for you to join the tour. The only ticket necessary is one for today’s performance. I can escort you to where the tour begins. We will go in through the performers’ entrance.”

Paulo stood and picked up his cello, and Leslie followed him and they chatted as he brought her to the performers’ entrance. Leslie saw that there was a guard station just inside the door.

“Jerry, this is my friend Leslie Gordon. She’s going to join the backstage tour. I’ll walk her back there. Is it okay if I leave my cello here? I’ll return in a few minutes.”

“Sure, Paulo, I’ll keep my eye on it.” Jerry smiled at Leslie. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy the tour and today’s opera, ma’am. And a very merry Christmas to both of you.”

As they walked past people scurrying to get everything set up so the opera would start on time, Leslie turned to Paulo. “Oh, this is so exciting! Not only will I see my first opera, I will see what it is like backstage. I can hardly wait to tell Ash all about it.”

“Ash is the friend you’ll see during the intermission?”

Leslie laughed. “No, it’s James who is here for today’s performance. I’m afraid you’ll think me rather... peculiar, perhaps. Ash sings an aria from The Pearl Fishers, and when I asked about it James told me it is the duet from the first act.” Leslie giggled. This was so embarrassing. “Ash is my parrot. He was recently given to me by an older friend who can no longer care for him. She told me that she listens to operas on the radio and compact disks, and Ash apparently heard this aria, and he seems to enjoy it and it became his favorite because it is the only one he sings. Granted, the words aren’t distinguishable, but he repeats the tune exactly the same way each time he sings. I am looking forward to hearing the aria sung properly at today’s performance.”

“There’s your tour group, Leslie. I have to say, you have repaid me for the ticket I gave you.”

“How did I do that, Paulo?”

“By providing me with a wonderful story that I can tell my friends, the story about Ash, the parrot who sings his favorite aria, “Au fond du temple saint” from The Pearl Fishers.”

Leslie smiled as Paulo left to join the orchestra. She looked forward to seeing the opera and telling Ash all about it when she got home. Perhaps she would even be able to hum the tune of Ash’s favorite aria, and they could sing it together the way it should be sung, as a duet.

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This story and the included images are Copyright 2011 by Colin Kelly (colinian). They cannot be reproduced without express written consent. Codey's World web site has written permission to publish this story. No other rights are granted.

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