France has a worldwide reputation for its refined culture, so I have adopted the posh pastime of attending the opera. With a love for orchestral music and theater, I was eager to spend the equivalent of an entire week’s worth of meals (so, 15 Euro – thank you Crous for the cheap meals) to buy tickets to all three operas offered by Madame Serafin’s “On My Radar” program.
Despite my excitement for my first dip into the more cultured side of Metz (the On My Radar program is providing numerous other opportunities later in the semester), a surprise phone interview the night of the opera kept me from leaving on time. As is necessary for any starving college student, the prospect of a job won out over anything else, but didn’t stop me from trying to catch what I could. Navigating to the opera alone and in the cold, Metz at night provided a gorgeous sight I had yet to experience before. Built in 1752, the opera house is the oldest still running in France, and one of the oldest in Europe. Consequently, my walk from the bus stop (where my bus ended before it was supposed to) led through a beautiful old section of Metz.
After finally reaching the opera almost an hour late, I was met with yet another gorgeous building, but with no clear entrance. I guess there’s no red carpet laid out for late comers. After testing some doors, finding them locked, and getting yelled at for trespassing when entering what is apparently an adjacent, but different building, I began to question whether French culture even allows anyone to come late. While I respect the integrity of the opera and the need for quiet during each act, entering during intermission didn’t seem unreasonable. Success did eventually come after following a man back through a door after his smoke break, getting yelled at by security, escorted to the ushers, and finally plopped into a seat in the back.
Once I could actually settle in for the show, I remembered that I had never actually attended an opera before. Singing words inherently makes them more difficult to understand, as is often an issue in musicals. However, operas tend to be sung in the original Italian, making the effort considerably greater. Luckily, subtitles were provided on a handy screen above the stage. In French. While I have taken a few years of French, I am not particularly fluent and have forgotten most of it in the years since my instruction.
One can argue that the point of the Opera is not so literal. “The magic of the stage expresses emotion without the need for words!” I could imagine my orchestra conductor saying. This didn’t prevent the plot from being entirely lost on me, however. Intermission brought an opportunity to catch up from the Wikipedia synopsis, which is something that should be done in advance when time allows. From then on, I acted as a sleuth, piecing together the tale of Eugene Onegin from visual depictions, the plot overview in English, my sparse French, and at times a bit of Italian that was loosely comprehensible. The story is an interesting one that left me without a satisfying ending. In essence, Onegin spurns the love of a girl, gets into a fatal duel with his best friend, and later realizes that he loves the girl after she is already married. She then rejects him, and the story ends. No happy ending, but no dramatic fall from glory. Simply a rejection. A reasonable result, actually. This, in combination with the brilliant Tchaikovsky score, made for a glorious night.