When I was seven years old, my Mum placed a piece of Kleenex and a quarter into the soft satin lining of my white sequined purse.
“It’s always a good idea to have a bit of money and something to blow your nose with,” she said as she helped me snap the gold and crystal clasp shut.
I ran my hand over the clear sequins and the pearl-like beads woven into the shape of a tree with little flowers on each branch. I rarely used this small purse, but tonight was special. My Dad and I were going to The Magic Flute at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre – my first Opera.
“You’re not going too?” I asked Mum.
“No, Mummy has to stay with the baby. She’s too young to go to the Opera.” It reminded me that my new sister Wendy would cry and that would be embarrassing.
I had already seen a few performances at the theatre, but not Opera – Dad’s favourite. As we took our seats, he pulled out the playbill and read the synopsis to me so I knew what was about to happen. Throughout the performance, he fed me coloured mints we bought in the lobby, the kind that melted in my mouth, likely to distract me enough from kicking my legs into the seat in front. Every so often, he’d whisper in my ear, reminding me of what scene was playing out in front of us. Sometimes I’d ask him to pass me the opera glasses so I could gaze at the lead as if they were under a microscope, watching them bellow out their solo always dressed in long and colourful garb.
Today I still go to the Opera and sit in the same seats that my father had for many years. Last week, I went to a performance of Verdi’s Aida. A large production with up to 75 people on stage at times (I counted). Blue monochrome costumes and the men dressed as slaves with gold lame loin cloths that looked more like quilted pot holders, but nevertheless worked for the scenes. The king dressed in a white caftan and dripping with gold in front. The women in browns, purples, and blues flowing in the light stage breeze. The Arias sweet and heartfelt, the ending tragic and finite. I had never seen Aida, not making it to the performance at BC Place Stadium in 1989, before Vancouver had gone viral. I heard – it seemed back then that everyone living in Vancouver was an extra – that there was a large pyramid towed in on a barge and real elephants parading around the huge arena. This time, instead of live animals, the addition of ballet intertwined with traditional Opera was a nice surprise and worked well, for me anyway. Apparently the production had wanted to bring in Falcons, but animal rights groups forbade them to because the birds were not use to such a large audience in front of them, clapping. Something I certainly agree with.
I had briefly thought of giving up my seats this year, but I’m not ready. I couldn’t imagine not being able to sit in the same theatre gazing at the same stage I had so many times with my Dad. Now, I often close my eyes, feeling safe and secure as the strong voices echo throughout the sharp acoustics of the theatre. Over the years, I have taken many people with me, enjoying a thoroughly entertaining evening each time. I know it’s not for everyone, so I have a few mainstays – my partner Mack, my step mother, and a friend of mine who has give me numerous tickets over the years herself – people that love the opera and that don’t think it’s just a bunch of “fat ladies screeching” as one lovely online reviewer recently noted.
My love for the Opera is what pushed me to ask the executor when Dad died if I could take over Dad’s two opera seats. I was very happy the day they were put into my name. I’ve made it my own experience now, but a small piece of me still loves to hold onto the feeling of warmth and peace of my early childhood.