The so-called “Verdi’s Lusciousness” libation in the tall, sweating glass is as advertised: a punchy mixture of sharp bourbon, tart lemon, and viscous Aperol that recalls lush, licentious evenings spent in the smoky rooms of a courtesan’s opulent quarters. And it’s going down nicely, sip by sip, especially after the pint glass of bright cider I gulped in a grimy bar while killing time for the venue’s doors to open to early diners like me. I always book at least ninety minutes in Prelude, the restaurant at the San Francisco Opera, so I can dine at leisure prior to the performance. But tonight, my order arrived so quickly, I should have time to linger over black tea with cream and signature cake, reflecting on how I came to be here.
It’s “La Traviata” on tonight, and I feel quite enchanted and oddly at peace to be back at this War Memorial Opera House. I don’t rightly know what makes me appreciate this art form so. Maybe it’s the pageantry of silks and brocades, lace and tulle. Perhaps it’s about Big Feelings sung Loudly punctuated by Grand Gestures. Or it could simply be that I am moved by all manner of music. Does it ultimately even matter? Dig it all, I certainly do.
I suppose there’s one additional reason I should interrogate: I think I may have come of age believing that to love opera was an indisputable measure of class and culture. As a teen of Holden Caulfield’s years, I aspired to escape a middling middle-class, super-suburban upbringing. I mean, really—what other sixteen-year-old’s Saturday morning ritual in the Eighties included munching brunch while studying “Style with Elsa Klensch” on CNN? Elsa, a refined British fashion maven with crimson pout who rubbed cashmere-clad elbows with Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, and Issey Miyake, definitely seemed the opera aficionado type. And the haute couture she showcased? Where else to wear such confections, if not to rooms filled with evening…
Then came “Moonstruck,” with Cher as lonely Loretta falling in love at “La Bohème” (for the record, the sole opera I’ve seen that I hated; I found it offensively absurd a consumptive could sing soaring arias while purportedly perishing of cold and a strong cough). Loretta’s unfettered, unabashed reaction to the emotional residue of the hall, the stage, the spotlight, the voices wielded as instruments complementing the orchestrations and arrangements so perfectly seemed so reverent and deep and divine. It was orgasmic for her, and fucking hell—I wanted to experience that, too!
And it’s almost mine tonight, that amazing sensation, as I indulge in a sliver of chocolate sponge laced with raspberry, caramel drizzle, and mocha cream, washed down with strongly brewed English Breakfast. As much as I am consistently engrossed with the spectacle, three hours in a warm theater on a school night can be a test of my wakefulness. I nodded during “Carmen” four years ago, and regret that to this day. So better to caffeinate and sugar up, and fully enjoy the show. I unreservedly intend to, for with ravishing courtesans and fevered confessions of affections, betrayals and duels, jealousies and chronic illness guaranteeing a death or two, what’s not to love? Again, does it matter how I’ve come to this hall? I am ready for my dramatic dream set to strings. “Verdi’s Lusciousness,” indeed.