Advertisements here locally in the newspaper and on television indicated that Rossini's Barber of Seville, the last of four operas of the season by Austin Lyric Opera, was down to its final one of three performances, at a matinee on Sunday. I really was not familiar with the story, or the music by that matter, but was vaguely familiar with the title and knew (the extent of my opera knowledge) that it was well known. Duh!
My wife was not interested in attending; getting out and about is a hassle for her since her stroke nearly five years ago, so I invited our son to go with me. Jimmy is a professional musician and recording studio owner-operator here in Austin. His schedule was clear on that day, so he said he'd meet me there. I'm a bit of a last-minute planner at times, so I told him to meet me at the "Will Call" window about a half-hour before the performance. To indicate how little I knew about operas and local viewing preferences, I actually figured that the Sunday show would not be as well attended as the first two weeknights. Was that an error. Just before leaving the house to drive to Austin, I decided to check seating availability, and possibly purchasing on-line tickets. Wow, what a shock! In all of the "usual"price ranges, there were only a handful of single available seats, and no adjacent seats anywhere downstairs. In fact, the only seats shown at all with two together in these prices were about ten seats in the very highest and farthest-removed portion of the upper deck, real nose-bleed seats. Somewhat desperately, I re-ran the computer search for "best seats" (with no ticket price limitations) and up popped two on, would you believe it, Row "A" in Orchestra. The price was right up there at the max-o rate, but what the heck, I don't do this often (obviously) and so I decided to go ahead and go for it.
When Jimmy and I met at the Will-Call window and I submitted my print-out of the confirmation, the woman there seemed to struggle with the process. It was getting a bit tenuous, and the clock was ticking. People were in line behind me. Finally, after working with her keyboard, she called over a co-worker and they worked together. I was getting both nervous and a bit agitated with the difficulty, since I had a confirmation. At last, she referred me to the "Resolution Window" and my son and I were shuffled over three windows to a man who has been assigned to sort out our problem. He went back and forth working on his keyboard, and finally sighed and said, "Ah, now it's okay. Got you covered." The printer started spitting out the two tickets, and we were on our way, not sure what exactly was so complicated.
Up the steps we walked, and into the auditorium, where we were directed down and down stairways until at last, we walked out into the large theater and were escorted to, using a football analogy, what would be the two most-centered seats on the fifty-yard line, directly in front of the orchestra pit. A very formal appearing Asian man sat to my right, along with his wife. They were talking with a lady to their right who looked like she was dressed up to go to the opera! Everyone was very chi-chi. On my son's left, sat an older lady, with a walking cane, and with a vacant seat to her left. As we made a bit of small talk, it became apparent that these folks had their seats for at least five years , and apparently we got the seats only after some regular season ticket holders cancelled that one day for some reason. After only a few minutes, the lights dimmed and the auditorium hushed.
All of a sudden, a spotlight beamed down directly on the spot immediately in front of my seat, and a man dressed in a black tuxedo rose up, his head from his ears up now visible. He turned to the audience and accepted the applause. Wow, the Maestro himself. I could have reached over and tapped him on his prominent bald spot almost without rising from my seat!
The opera's first act, substantial at about ninety minutes, was a hoot, with some really fun comedic goings-on. The basic theme is "Dashing young man of high breeding sees girl, wants to marry girl, who somehow instantly falls in love with man from a few glances, but girl is restrained by older "mentor" chartered to "protect" her (and her dowry, which, by the way, will be his if he can con her into marrying him.)
At the first break, Jimmy chatted up the lady on his left, who turned out to be a delightful gal, who is not only an opera buff (she had seen "Barber" seven times already) but likes all sorts of music. She lost her husband several years ago, and the vacant seat was his. She retains the seat to bring guests from time to time. Her taste in music is very wide, and she told Jimmy that her favorite music is , are you ready for this ... heavy metal! But the discussion was limited as the performance resumed.
The Phantom, er, the maestro was working hard and his head became covered with sweat. I could see him mouth out instructions to the various sections of the orchestra. Now it's clear to me why this section is called "orchestra." Duh! A focused spotlight continued to be trained on him the entire performance.
In the second and final act, the dashing (and love-sick) man enlists the local, eponymous barber, who has an entrance key to the house (as he shaves the mentor), as his ally. The older "minder" is rather nimble and quick, and the local police force is involved, but the girl makes the correct final decision and all finally ends well. Dashing man, who is young and also happens to be a Count, gets girl. Whew!
After the performance and well-deserved rounds of applause ended, we stood and Jimmy and the nice lady with a cane continued to chat. She seemed genuinely interested that he is a musician and a recording studio person. He asked her many questions about her music tastes, and at one point, she responds that her favorite band is ... are you ready for this ... Slayer. I had not heard of Slayer, the "Thrash Band" from California.
But Jimmy had, and the conversation picked up speed. Our little threesome finally left the choice spot in front of the orchestra and took the elevator up to the main entrance. Jimmy got the lady's contact information, and vice versa, and just before the two of us left, the Phantom, now dressed in blue jeans, denim shirt, and a casual sports coat, his long gray hair down to his neck, walked by us with his wife. The maestro returned now back to normal life in Austin, whatever normal means in this wonderful, diverse city. What a great experience all around for a father-son outing!