In talking with a friend yesterday, I reminisced about visiting the Royal Opera House (ROH) in London a few years ago. It had been my dream ever since childhood to visit England, London, and especially to see the Royal Ballet. The stars aligned just right, and I found myself in the building that (to me) was filled with fairy tales and dreams come true. I haunted the gift shop, hallways, display cases of costumes, and the customer service area.
On an impulse, I stopped by the ticket counter and inquired about upcoming shows. The Royal Ballet had closed for the season, but the Royal Opera was performing Le nozze di Figaro.
Oh, wait? One tonight? I waited with bated breath. Could there be any tickets left?
“There’s one available tonight in the stalls circle.”
The price, of course, was astronomical. Bigger problem: the opera started in less than an hour. I looked down at my tourist shorts and casual shirt in dismay. Sure, the ROH tends to be more casual than other European opera houses, but my dream of attending a ROH opera did not include tacky clothing.
“I won’t have time to change clothes. Is it all right if I wear this?”
The ticket seller waved my concerns away. “That’s fine. But this seat doesn’t have a surtitle view. I’m sorry, but it’s the only one left.”
Who cares about surtitles when I could still see the stage? And in such a good seat, too! Then again, the seat would have to be a good one for that price.
Possibly due to my less-than-costly attire, the ticket seller gave me a kindly look. “It’s a lot of money. Are you sure?”
It was a lot of money, and it wasn’t in my budget. But I hadn’t saved up for six years to go home without taking advantage of dreams come true. “I’ll take it!”
I rushed back to the gift shop hoping to find a libretto or guide for the opera that night. I knew the basic story, of course, but so much of the humor of an opera depends on knowing the timing. I did not manage to find a libretto or other aid (I would have been glad for a children’s book describing the story), but I picked up some more souvenirs instead. Wild with excitement, I wandered around the courtyard taking pictures of anything that moved and lots that didn’t.
Embarrassed at looking like an American tourist too clueless to know theater etiquette, I shuffled into the theater clutching my ticket (which is now proudly displayed on my fridge). I wanted to apologize for my inappropriate clothing, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
Breath taken away, I checked my bag and found my way to my seat. To my surprise and delight, the woman next to me was a fellow American (expat) who gave opera coaching for her profession. She asked me if I knew the story, and I shook my head. I mean, I “knew,” but only in the most general terms. She proceeded to tell me about the story, in depth. I was grateful and touched. I kept wanting to pinch myself, though, to make sure everything wouldn’t disappear when I woke up. Me, little plain old Ana, at the Royal Opera House? It was too grand to be true.
Then the curtain went up…
Spellbound, I laughed at the silliness and teared up at the gorgeous music. I have never liked Mozart (long story), but that night his clarity and lightness served as the perfect, frothy, summer fun treat. At the intermission, I went to the Crush Room and nearly fainted. How many times had I read about characters going to the “Crush” at intermission and talking with famous music and ballet critics? I wandered around the new additions and was glad for the loudness of the patrons…I could get away with a little squeal of excitement every now and then.
As the performance finished and audience members trickled out of the theater (or perhaps I should say “theatre”), I couldn’t bear to leave. I murmured to my new friend, “Do they allow photos?” She wasn’t sure, so I nipped closer to the stage and turned around to take a photo (not of the stage, which I was sure would be forbidden) but the seats. An usher came over (here I think my clueless American tourist clothing helped!) and politely told me photography, even of the seats, was not allowed. I apologized profusely and sincerely, and I didn’t have to delete the photos from my camera!
It’s not a very good photo (I took the pictures as fast as I could in case I got stopped), but the angle and lights express my wonderment that night.
To crown the evening, as I walked out and tried (unsuccessfully) to find the nearest Tube station, a pedicab cyclist came by and offered me a ride.
I normally wouldn’t have dreamed of it, but the night was too glorious to end with prosaic, ordinary travel such as the Tube. I paid my money and got in, and I felt like Cinderella carried by her pumpkin coach and mice horses.
I said to my friends and family afterward, “Everyone should have a night like this before dying.” At intermission in the Crush Room, I thought I might burst with happiness. I’d gotten to do something I’d dreamed about ever since I was little, and I’d never expected it to actually happen. More than that, I was only lucky enough to do it because of a series of coincidences that gave me a night to remember for the rest of my life.
Talking about the night with my friend made me appreciate (once more) the glory of realizing that dream. I’ve had many dreams come true (I am blessed in many ways), but there’s something special about a lifelong dream.
Sometimes, it’s easy to feel sad that a happy moment is over or a person who makes us happy is gone. When things are difficult, I see the difficulty of the present instead of the blessings of the past.
No, every night can’t be a dream-come-true night, but some can. Dreams can come true in small or big ways, and sometimes the smallest ways are the biggest of all. A phone call from a long-estranged family member. The smile of someone who has been ill for too long. Good news when we least expect it.
Tonight (or some night soon), I hope you will have an evening that makes you think to yourself, “I’m so glad I had a night like this before I die.”
What is your dream?
Want to learn about opera but feel intimidated? Here’s a great “Opera for Beginners” guide.
And if you have children, read this guide to introducing children to opera.