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Amber Paulen

An Opera

This past weekend I attended the opera For You, the libretto written by Ian McEwan. I had never been to an opera before; I have never read Ian McEwan. It was a strange sensation to have a story sung to me, the music moving the story or the story moving the music. The voices lifted in musical dialogue, the voices more powerful than the story, which at most was entertaining.

I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t know, by acquaintance, one of the performers, not being a fan of opera or of Ian McEwan. The plot—in brief, about the repercussions of fame/power—would have made a thrilling short story or an average novel. As opera, the dramatic tension never piqued me to the heights that inspire empathy for one character or another. If I was, it was only because I recognized someone on stage.

More exciting and emotionally charged was the scene that transpired later, when the actors and us following, went to dinner. Italian restaurants are often a hot-bed of confusion on Saturday nights, whether one knows the language, the waiters, the owners or not. To avoid confusion a reservation was made for a large group of foreigners, friends, acquaintances or relations of the above mentioned performer. But two groups of foreigners walked from the opera to the restaurant, the smaller one of mainly actors, and us the large group, following.

We entered the restaurant: a mass of English speakers, some opera singers and one Italian. The smaller and unreserved group was seated unperturbed at the reserved large table. Catastrophe! If only our group had no relation to that group, it would have been easier; if only the waiter did not consider us all as one, together, confused as he was, counting the mass on his fingers. But the heated and hungry plied the waiter for our right to the pilfered table as the seated began to order their dinner. “That’s our table!” we told him. “But you are all the same,” he said.

So the Italian repaired the situation, leading the red-faced waiter to the actors and demanded they switch to a smaller table. “No problem,” they grumbled, switching seats and splashing wine, navigating the chairs and the bodies shipwrecked like piles of driftwood, sweating, in that small underground room.

The confusion, the voices, the misplaced bodies, went on for half an hour. The dinner went on for three: vino, focaccia, mozzarella, prosciutto, pane, pasta, torta, café and Fernet Branca. And when the performers stood to leave (earlier than us) and to bid the one performer seated at our table good-night, the main actor noticed the Italian with surprise. “Pensato che sono il capo del ristorante!” he good-naturedly exclaimed, his brawny hand tightly gripping the Italian. And he was for the night.

Life is more interesting, more multi-layered and emotionally charged than any depiction. Though we may try our damnedest to capture it, on the screen, on stage, in writing, in painting, photography, it will always escape us, thankfully!


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