Before we get into it, there are a few things I should be honest about.
I nap during opera performances.
I pack snacks. I like those wafer cookies with vanilla cream, and salt and vinegar chips. When I'm watching the Metropolitan Opera live at the movie theater (which is actually a thing), I sometimes buy tickets to the normal movies because the opera movie tickets are more expensive. And then I sneak into the opera. Sometimes!
All of these behaviors (except, maybe, the last one) have been sanctioned by my best friend, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth used to work at the Met Opera, so she knows about these things. She grew up in an opera family. They're Italian. They love that quintessential Italian American movie, Moonstruck, in which Nicolas Cage plays a tortured, crazed opera fanatic who, in a very Elizabeth-style act of courtship, takes his brother's fiancee, played by Cher, to Lincoln Center to see La Bohème. (Spoiler alert: They fall in love. La Bohème is sappy, I'm told, but it can have this effect on people.)
When it comes to the opera, Elizabeth has many opinions. All you need to do is ask. And I always do because I love to see this side of her, how she comes alive at the mention of that staging of Tosca or that tenor who's performing in the Royal Opera House's production of Rigoletto.
And Elizabeth, of course, has opinions on how one should enjoy the opera.
"The opera," she once wrote, "is not somewhere you go to study or focus or pay your cultural dues. You can wear jeans. You can fall asleep. Your mind can wander, and, personally, I encourage it."
I took that to mean: There's no one way to be an opera fan.
That was a relief because I can't tell you about the merits of one soprano over another or what a conductor brought to a particular performance. I can't always decipher the deeper meanings of what I'm watching. But I can tell you about the moments that move me, the way the dramatics of opera, where everything is so heightened and extreme, make me feel less crazy, and the pleasure I take in participating in a tradition that's endured for hundreds of years.
And, as a person with a charming habit of falling asleep during high art, I wanna know I can nap if I need to. Without shame.
In February, I took myself to see Opera Philadelphia's production of Written on Skin, intrigued by how it was said to explore power in relationships and also feature evil, high-fashion angels. I sat at the very front. (Yes, opera can be very expensive but sometimes you can get tickets for $20, especially if you're willing to have an obstructed view, which in my opinion, isn't a huge trade-off since there are so many other things that are vying for your attention.) But it was a Friday after a long week, and it was so warm in there, and I felt really cozy, so I fell asleep pretty fast.
But when I did wake up, I got to see Agnès seduce The Boy in a sex scene that was scandalous yet somehow restrained at the same time, and also, thrillingly, filled with paint. "Love's not a picture," she says to him. "Love is an act." I watched her, later, erupt in a fury at The Boy, and swelled with compassion for her because ugh, did I know how she felt. And I loved the scheming angels, their clinical, detached cool, their geometric haircuts, how they looked straight off a Rick Owens runway.
I liked it so much I went back two days later.