I’ve finally booked tickets for the Royal Opera House using a voucher that’s been burning a hole in my pocket for nearly two years now. In light of the fact I haven’t done anything about this for two years, burning might be too strong a word. Quietly steaming might be closer to the mark, whilst going stone cold through neglect would be the technically accurate term. Why the long wait? Well, I could put forward a variety of excuses, so I will: on at least four occasions I tried to book tickets for operas whose name, if not byzantine plot, were reasonably familiar to me; however on each occasion I discovered I was approximately four years too late to get a ticket. Of the ones where tickets were still available, the price exceeded the value of the voucher by some several million pounds. (I’ve rounded figures up for ease of understanding).
And this was a sizeable voucher we’d been given, well into three figures. Faced with these difficulties my enthusiasm for redeeming this gift waned, somewhat inevitably. However, there was a deeper, albeit harder to reveal reason behind the tardiness in dealing with an act of generosity by two very close friends. For all the extravagance of opera, all the glamour and sheer scale of the spectacle, there is one abiding problem; the sheer, unadulterated naffness of the art-form, the mind-bending suspension of disbelief required to treat the protagonists- who invariably look as though their make-up has been done for them by an LSD-crazed paedophile- with anything like approaching credibility. Without wishing to add to the size debate in relation to modern performing artistes, the elephant in the room as far as opera is concerned is all too often an elephant in the room; and waiting for her to sing, whilst hordes of hysterically unbelievable eunuchs chant around the stage like a chorus of Cecil B de Mille extras on a hen night, can be trying on the nerves.
However, having admitted somewhat ashamedly to myself the reluctance for responding to the generous gift that I’d been given, I did finally manage to book seats, and having purchased the tickets, and realising there was £25 or so left on the voucher, popped into the ROH- well, I’m family now, so I’m allowed to use the acronyms- and asked how I could use up the remaining amount. Obviously I was hoping to exchange said sum for some mind-altering substance from behind the bar on the night, but obviously all-too-prepared for the reality that this would probably stretch to around one and a half Gin and Tonics in the crrr-aaaaa-zzzy world of opera finance, where a show is not a show until you’ve haemorrhaged the better part of 20 million quid on giraffes, flame throwers and Sperm-whale sized sopranos who can shatter the sun with a single cadenza. I was informed initially that the only place I could redeem the leftover amount was the gift shop-‘Marriage of Figaro’ egg-cup anyone? Thought not..-then told that actually it couldn’t be used for anything other than toward the cost of another production. I double-checked this information, politely at first, but with an increasing sense of urgency which seemed lost on the box-office; “Yes, you can put it towards any number of productions, in the Main House, the Linbury Studio, etc.”. “But you don’t understand”, I wanted to scream, “I’m never coming back. Why would anyone come back? Opera is bollocks! One-hundred-per-cent total and utter bollocks! And even if it was only ninety per cent balls, the fact that it took almost three times the length of the opera I’m now booked in to see to buy the bloody ticket in the first place would be enough to guarantee I never darkened your foyer again”.
But of course this would make me look like a total philistine, and if there’s one thing that philistines really hate, it’s looking like a total philistine. So I ended up nodding sagely at this information, even forgetting to laugh hollowly when the kindly member of staff told me I could even use it towards the cost of “a friend’s ticket whenever they came to see a show”. The fact that a Royal Opera House employee actually thought I might have an acquaintance culturally sophisticated and/or wealthy enough to be a regular attendee of their establishment actually made me fall in love with them a little bit, and so it is with this sense of comradeship in mind that I shall be girding myself to attend “La Fille de Regiment” later in the month. And offer my belated but extremely heartfelt thanks to the two incredibly generous friends who have given me this- literally- once in a lifetime opportunity.