Monday, March 10, 2008

A Night at the Opera

We managed to get tickets to The Marriage of Figaro, at the Opera de Nice, a couple of weeks ago. The performances were all sold out--we had meant to try to get tickets much earlier than we did--but a couple of weeks before the last night, four tickets came through the grapevine. Even though it was a school night, we reasoned that this was a moment not to allow school to interfere with education.

The girls had been to a short opera or two before--a side benefit of being in a family related to an arts school--but this was their first full-on, full-length, non-dress rehearsal, professional production. And C., I learned after Act III, had never been to the opera at all. My first opera was Don Giovanni, in the civic auditorium in my hometown, when I was about E. and G.'s age. Afterwards my friend, whose mother was on the board of something, and I got to wander around onstage, and I found a large black grosgrain ribbon bow that had fallen off a costume, and that sat on my dresser for months. So I wanted to run opera by the girls and see what happened.

I had good intentions about downloading the score of The Marriage of Figaro and making it the background music of our lives for the weeks before the performance, but I never got around to that. I did manage to call up the plot online the afternoon before, and talk through it with the girls: lots of hiding in closets and behind screens, and finding out that the woman who is blackmailing you into marriage is actually your long-lost mother, and that the countess is dressed up as her maid who is dressed up as the countess. E. pointed out that it sounded a lot like that scene in Monkey Business where the Marx Brothers hide in steamer trunks in someone's stateroom. Well, you take your cultural references where you can find them, and, actually, the Marx Brothers and Mozart are not so bad.

The day of the performance we ate dinner early, and then the girls went to get dressed. They were both in velvet, E. in deep claret, and G. in a brighter red, with a black feathery collar. They both had black boots, with low heels, and when they clicked out of their rooms and across the salon towards us all dressed up, they took our breath away. They have always been beautiful children, if I do say so myself, but suddenly we had a glimpse of them as women.

The Nice opera house is of the jewel box variety: all red velvet and gilt and crystal chandeliers. We sat in one of the boxes in the parterre, each on our own red velvet slipper chair. The girls leaned their elbows on the edge and looked out, and saw the royal box, and found where Babar and Celeste sat in the picture book trip to the opera, and wondered where Princess Grace would have sat when she came over from Monaco. Then the concertmaster came out, and the orchestra tuned, and then the conductor appeared in his white tie and tails, and then it began.

We all followed the action. The girls kept shooting me conspiratorial glances as the plot unfolded: this is what we talked about, this is what the synopsis said would happen. They laughed out loud a few times. And they put their heads together in whispered conference when they weren't quite sure of a finer plot point.

At intermission we went into the bar--more gilt, and mirrors, and painted cherubs--and shared a plate of beignets that tasted of roses. Rosewater doughnuts at the Opera de Nice. Back into our box to watch two more acts, and, just at the moment when, finally, everyone figured out who everyone else was, and everyone who had been hiding in the garden pergola came out again, and Figaro and Susannah made up, and the Count and Countess reconciled, sprays of fireworks went off at the back of the stage. To celebrate. Because, really, if you can include fireworks, why not?

The evening was magical, even though we were all exhausted the next day. It came midway through a spell of visits and visiting, and this spell turned out to be all about our younger relations. We had our family toddler with us for a while, and then an expectant mother, and then I went up to Paris to call on the new baby and his brother. So we have had a lot of little ones recently, and all that that entails: the fish sticks and chicken nuggets, the Sesame Street, the tantrums, and the bodily fluids of every sort, as well as the moments of crystalline discovery, when a child sees the sea, when a toddler plays with words, and when a baby looks into your eyes and smiles on purpose for the first time.

It all reminds us of our own turn on the battlements of early childhood. G. and E. seem, now, such a long way away from afternoon naps and bouncy chairs. Especially in their velvet dresses, sitting at the opera, reading the French super-titles and laughing at Figaro's escapades. We love this younger set of children, and, really, all the laundry and the wailing and the spilled cups of juice are not so bad when chalked up against the rest of it. I am happy to dip in and out of the daily lives of these little ones, but I would not go back. I would not wish my girls toddlers again. Nor would I have missed any moment of their toddlerdom. When these small fry are ready, I'll take them to the opera, too. All those fish sticks make the rosewater beignets taste better.

No comments:

Post a Comment