Opera buffa with a dash of amore

Or the best date ever at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House to see the Barber of Seville in 2006

Jennifer Ng


“This is my favorite opera,” said Chris while we ate dinner. “Looney Tones even parodied it as the Rabbit of Seville!”

I paused. For too long, I faked my passion for opera to win over former flames. Yet while tragedy fell to lovers on stage and my date sitting to my right, my eyes fluttered closed, and my head tilted forward to a nap. Now wiser and more self-aware, I warned Chris, “I always fall asleep by Act 2.”

If he was worried, his face showed little concern. He leaned forward and exclaimed, “I have to show you how great The Barber of Seville is!”

His enthusiasm was infectious. He brought me to my first football game, and for the first time at a sporting event, I did not drown in boredom due to Chris’ patient explanation of plays and rules. At a concert, he sensed my restlessness and led me to a secret room of concert posters. How could I not say no to opera? I nodded.

“Let me find tickets,” he said. “It’s probably going to be sold out.”

“Let’s do it,” I said, hoping to spend more time with him.

Chris, a year older than me, had known me in college, but I had dismissed him as a loud, obnoxious Asian-American blessed with curly hair. My heart fluttered at a mutual friend’s weekend outing when Chris declared, “I always have horchata with my tacos.”

“I do too!” I exclaimed.

We bonded over dark cerebral TV dramas and dancing to concerts of bands nobody knew. I was enraptured by his love of shameless fun. The opera would be our sixth date, and as a girl in my mid-twenties, I wanted to know where it was going.

After work, I ran back to my apartment and pulled on the only floor-length dress I owned. The black fabric smelled faintly of a smoke-filled bar. I wrapped myself in a shawl and struggled to get my stiletto heels on. Did the straps go behind or in the front? My phone buzzed. “I am not going to dive into your car just yet!”, I laughed.

Chris chuckled and said, “Not there yet!”

In fifteen minutes, I tumbled down the stairs through the open passenger door. I dove into the slowly moving car like a secret agent, hoisting the layers of fabric above my heels. Dressed smartly in a suit and tie, Chris matched me. We zoomed to downtown San Francisco.

“Hey, sexy voters!” catcalled a protestor in front of San Francisco City Hall. “Looking good!”

We smiled as we walked arm in arm to the War Memorial Opera House. Inside, we found seats in the orchestra to listen to the pre-performance lecture. Afterwards, we shuffled upstairs to our assigned seats. “The guy said that it has a great view,” Chris said.

His face fell as we climbed one floor, then another floor. Then finally to the very top floor to the nearly the last row. “It’s okay,” I whispered.

View from the top tier

Familiar music filled the space. The soprano and baritone voices beckoned and tickled our ears. The set twisted and turned. Unique props moved across the stage. Chris whispered the plot to me, slipping lines from the Looney Tunes short. “What would you want with a wabbit?” he said.

During the intermission, we wandered through the building. As we peered over the balcony, he pointed out the box seats. “The Z box is empty,” he observed with a twinkle in his eye. “It has been empty since the opera began.”

I smiled. He took my hand, and we walked down the stairwell. “Just follow me,” he said.

Then we were inside the box. Chris closed the door and turned the lock. “Act like we belong,” Chris said, and we walked to the balcony where now our formal attire finally fit the context.

Glancing at our new neighbors, we maintained a formal poise, exchanging words in whispers. Chris silently sang to the words to the favorite songs and leaned forward at the pivotal moments. Looking at him, I smiled. I don’t remember exactly what happened during the opera. I remember a kangaroo prop, a comedy of errors, a barber, and young love. But what was important was that I didn’t fall asleep.

View from the box seats

After the opera, we walked outside and meandered through a nearby park. Mist filled the air. In preparation, he held our opera programs over my head. I laughed, “I don’t care about my hair.”

I checked my phone for the time. Would I need to go home? Copying me, Chris reached into his pocket and realized that he didn’t have his cell phone. Quickly, we returned to the opera house. “I had it before the opera,” Chris recalled.

Chris banged on a side door, and a security guard answered. “I think I left my phone in the theater,” Chris explained.

Sympathetic, the guard let us inside. “I am sorry, but I cannot let you search the opera house,” the security guard said. “Where were your seats?”

Without hesitation, Chris quickly told a story, “We met with friends so we were in a few locations. I was here for the lecture in the orchestra. Then she was in the top tier, and I was in the box seat.”

The security guard led us through rooms filled with props and stage equipment. Everything was silent, a stark contrast to the drama on stage only an hour earlier. We pattered across the stage and looked up to the now darkened room once filled with chattering audience. Arriving at the backstage, the security guard instructed us to stay put. With the performers and audience members gone, our voices echoed. Because my feet hurt, I took my shoes off and stood barefoot. Alone in the backstage, we touched the plush kangaroo prop and stared at the closed doors, hoping an opera singer would appear. One walked out of a dressing room and disappeared into the dark shadows. The security guard returned ten minutes later, apologizing that he could not find the phone. “Call us tomorrow,” he said.

Chris sighed, and we walked outside. “We got to see the backstage!” I said.

“Yes, we did.” Chris said. “Yes, we did.”

Encouraged by the magic of the evening, I approached the subject of “us” as we arrived at my street. “Where are we going?” I asked. “What are we doing?”

Chris looked surprised, and his hand wavered over his car key in the ignition. Eventually, he looked down at his hands. “I really like spending time with you,” he managed. “I had a really good time tonight.”

“I like spending time with you too,” I said.

We exchanged more words about our fears, our desires, and our blossoming attraction. After the big talk, we concluded that we would see each other again. Filled with optimism, I skipped up to my apartment. Chris drove forty miles south to his place. The very next day, he drove back to San Francisco to pick up his phone at the opera house and deliver my phone I accidentally left in the passenger seat.

Three years later now officially a couple, Chris asked if I wanted to see an opera. I gave him a knowing look. “Is this going to be a repeat of last time?” I asked.

“Don’t worry, it’s at AT&T Park,” he said. “It’s a bigger place.”



Jennifer Ng

Creative nonfiction and fiction writer. UXer. San Franciscan. Asian American. Author of Ice Cream Travel Guide. Read more at http://about.me/jennism