Alone for the night, while my wife and daughter are away visiting family, I accept a friend’s offer of a free ticket to the opera.
In the foyer, where the crowd mills about waiting to be ushered into the theatre, there’s a line-up for last-minute cappuccinos and wine. There’s a young woman with spiky purple hair, perhaps eight months pregnant, wearing a Jello Biafra t-shirt, hoop earrings and fishnet stockings. She’s having a heated discussion with her partner, who pushes his way through the black suits and sequined cocktail dresses and stalks off across the foyer.
On stage, the consumptive courtesan is engaged in a passionate kiss with the handsome nobleman. In the seats at the back of the hall, I’m sandwiched between the purple-haired woman, who has an empty seat beside her, and an older couple with English accents who are sharing a box of Black Magic chocolates, crinkling the wrappers, talking in loud whispers and drawing exasperated stares from some of those seated nearby. The old lady reminds me of a favourite aunt of mine who survived World War II, three husbands and a double mastectomy without ever acquiring the knack of taking herself or anyone else too seriously.
-What’s he going on about now, then?
-Oh, he’s telling her he’s madly in love with her.
-Well, who wouldn’t be. She’s beautiful, isn’t she.
-Been around a bit, though.
-Yes. Been around a bit. Does that one have marzipan? I don’t like marzipan.
-No, that’s coconut. I can always tell.
By the third act, the courtesan has sacrificed her love for the nobleman in order to save his reputation. She’s wasting away with consumption, alone and dying in her bed chamber. Carnival is going on outside, the sounds of revelry drifting through her open window. Too late, the nobleman discovers the truth of his lover’s feelings, and arrives just in time to hold her dying body in his arms. I can’t help but notice that the purple-haired woman is wiping tears from her eyes.
Heading back to the parking lot after the performance, we’re carried along by the surge of the crowd. There’s a thin, icy rain falling on us. I’m thinking about the fragility of life and love, about the sadness that always seems to be waiting just around the corner for us. The older couple are just ahead of me, the man gently holding the woman’s arm. Standing under a Pizza Hut awning, the t-shirt woman’s partner is waiting for her with an umbrella. Underneath a streetlight, they exchange a few words and a kiss before walking off, hand-in-hand, into the night.