When I moved to Chicago eighteen years ago, I got a second job bartending at the Lyric Opera. Prior to that, my exposure to opera was the occasional aria in a movie soundtrack. One of the perks of the gig was being able to attend the dress rehearsals. And I did… every one of them for three libation pouring seasons. This opportunity was the catalyst to my love affair with opera.
The Lyric Opera is my favorite theatre in town. Just walking into the theatre is enchanting. The grandeur of the building is a throwback in history when more was more. The chandeliers, grand staircases, and gilded sconces make you feel you’ve stepped out of the ordinary and into elegance. And that’s just the building! The time tested music is sung with mind-blowing flourish by the best singers in the world. The passion cloaks you like a beautiful, velvet cape. Every experience is majestic!
My favorite night of the year is the season opener at the Lyric Opera. It’s usually the first Saturday in October. I now attend as press to review the show, truly the best benefit I have as a writer. The Lyric rolls out the red carpet for Chicago royalty. Gold Coast (and the North Shore) is in the house! The pre-show reception starts at 5:30pm. The curtain is at 6:30pm. And many of the premier attendees have also purchased a $575 ticket to the opening night ball. So, doing the math with drinks, tipping your bartender and transportation, a couple probably spent over $2,000 for the evening. It’s easy to pick out the folks going to the ball… their fairy godmothers dressed them.
Feathers, glitter, chiffon, fur, jewels… for this night only, the audience’s costumes are more decadent than the cast. It’s pure pageantry! And I usually love every gawking moment of it. But last night’s scene wasn’t *the scene* I’ve come to anticipate. First, after getting all dressed up myself, I was en route when my playdate Jay canceled. His actor’s workshop ran long and he was stuck in traffic. He knew he wouldn’t make it to Rogers Park, change into a suit and get downtown by the 6:30pm curtain. He felt horrible. Me too. I often go to theatre by myself and it’s no biggie. But the Lyric opener is a gapers‘ paradise for two. If you can’t sidebar with a friend, what’s the point?
Back when I was a bartender, opening night was only champagne and sparkling water. And it was free. And the people drank. Although my palm would be sore from opening up forty bottles of champagne, I am incredibly proficient in popping a cork…a neat party trick. Anyway a few years back, the Lyric changed the opener to provide free food and cash bars. Huge buffet tables now fill the main foyer and five floors of ticket holders descend on the food. It can get intense! This year, in particular, seemed like a horror flick. Hordes of zombies, be it well-dressed zombies, circled and attacked the food. It was like an adult food fight. But people didn’t throw food, they scarfed it like they were survivors of a famine. Gross!
I actually got pushed several times by exquisitely-dressed ladies. I finally found a tiny spot near an abandoned food table. I tried to enjoy the people watching but I was so concerned for the elderly patrons with canes that I left *the scene* and went into the sanctuary of the theatre. Not quite the evening, I had envisioned. I loved the opera. Although “Elektra” was amazing, the bloodbath in the final scene was nothing compared to the bloodbath in the preshow reception.