My girlfriend is a serious opera buff, so it was only a matter of time before I’d find myself donning a tux and heading to Harrison Opera House for Virginia Opera’s opening night, and as things turned out it was for Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” double billed with “Seven Deadly Sins.”
Dubbed “SinsPag” for short, it wonderfully presented to a fairly packed house full of all the bow ties and ballgowns one would expect from such affairs. One of the newest additions to the VA Opera was the after party, where the entire audience was invited to enjoy free finger foods and champagne, a cash bar, and a DJ to keep things hopping until Friday turned into Saturday. The first couple on the dance floor was, I’m guessing, about 80 years old and adorable. It was a nice surprise to see one of my artist friends and Cafe Stella barista extraordinaire, Betty, wearing her box of mirrors head – you’d have to see it to understand.
I would like to talk about the experience as a whole rather than delving into the intricacies of opera, of which I know relatively zero anyway. Before that, let’s rewind for a moment. I grew up in a fairly smallish, population 25,000 town in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where I’m fairly certain my first introduction to opera was via Bugs Bunny in the Rabbit of Seville belting out FIGARO, FIGARO while Elmer Fudd was consumed with thoughts of rabbit stew. My other notable exposures to opera before this were via Seinfeld, SNL’s Opera Man, and The Simpsons.
I have always enjoyed theater and the arts, but the overly played drama of opera has never been my thing, although you gotta respect such dedicated performers who give their heart and soul on stage.
Anyway, we began the evening at 6:30 sharp decked out in our finest threads and made the walk across the street from my apartment to 80/20 Burger Bar for their tasty house fries and a beer before summoning an Uber to chauffeur us down Llewellyn Avenue to the venue. The Olney/Llewellyn intersection wasn’t flooded, as is all too frequently the case this time of year, and the thought did occur that we could have just ridden our bicycles down that sweet new bike path with the green lanes, but I’m not convinced tuxedos and ankle length dress would have been a wise choice of attire for such adventures. But yeah, if you haven’t used the new bike lanes you gotta check ‘em out. Besides, it seemed way classier to roll out of the back seat smack dab in front of the opera house steps.
Our Uber driver Vaughn was a pretty cool dude, but I felt like a total opera failure when he asked me “Did you bring your minatures?” as in, those mini bottles you get on the airplane. “DOH!!” I replied and chalked it up as experience points for the future. We arrived and get our tickets, and to our delight they were eighth row aisle seats right in the center. We popped over to the bar where our choices included Champagne in a mini bottle (figures), Corona, Bud Light, Yuengling, and thankfully Norfolk Canyon and Red Nun from Norfolk’s O’Connor Brewing Co. There were a few snack options, but I would definitely suggest not saving your appetite for food at the opera.
Pro tip: Order your intermission drinks before the show and they will be waiting for you right on time, thus avoiding the wait in a pretty long line – Think 7pm Chipotle on Colley Ave. sized line.
One thing I must talk about the opera with great enthusiasm was how nobody, I mean not a soul, was on their smartphone during the performance; a stark difference from say, a concert at the NorVa, where a notable number of people watch the show through a 5” screen because “I gotta put this on Instagram NOW!” Life is full of experiences, and the more we can drop into them wholeheartedly with attention to the moment, the more rich and meaningful they become.
I remember as a kid when passenger air travel was something you dressed up for; today it’s not uncommon to see a twenty-something in flannel pj’s and Ugg boots up in business class. The opera is one of the few places I can think of where the nostalgia to times gone by still remains, where the young crowd can rub elbows with people three times their age, and where we, right here in Norfolk, can call ourselves classy.
You’ve got one more chance to see the 2 hr 20 min showing of “SinsPag” before it leaves town and heads to Richmond; Tuesday at 7:30pm. I’m told the Tuesday shows are pretty casual, so don’t feel like you gotta run out and rent a tux.
For more info on Virginia Opera, or to buy tickets, click here.