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The Opera Stratosphere
by Rick Sherman

My friends decided I needed culture and took me to the famed Metropolitan Opera House before it moved into Lincoln Center. The selection was Wagner's "Lohengrin." The ticket price seemed a princely sum. I expected loge seats adjacent to a box where one might find the Queen or other royalty. I expected to make opera glass eye contact with some beauty and signal her for a later assignation.

Instead, we climbed the steps, more steps, and still more steps. We scaled staircase after staircase. When we were shown to our seats, I wondered why, when I refused to go on roller coasters, I was looking over a precipice for the sake of a decadent art form. I was higher than the intermediate plunge on The Monster Cyclone.

With trepidation, I proceeded down to the first row in what must have been the seventeenth balcony. Fearing a nosebleed at such a high altitude, I looked around for the oxygen attendant.

Paul draped his camel haired coat around the seat back and nestled in. Little Harvey folded his coat and sat on it so he could see over the railing. Didn't he think we were high enough? They seemed pleased with their seating location.

"The music drifts up, that's why we like the seats here," Harvey explained.

I knew better. The price of treating me to my ticket was the reason for their lofty exile. Then Paul and Harvey opened a large book with the libretto and score of "Lohengrin" over their collective laps. I could read music, but since this wasn't a concert, I couldn't see how they could watch what was on the stage and follow along in the book. Besides, there was so much to see in the orchestra pit, the on stage action, and particularly the audience.

"I suppose there's no chance they'll play 'Melancholy Baby,' for us?" I quipped.

"No chance, you Rube," Paul hissed. "You're here for culture. Behave yourself."

Singly and then in clusters, orchestra members entered the pit. They warmed up. That was for me. The music truly did rise and the musicians' talent was overwhelmingly fantastic even though the Philharmonic considered them déclassé.

The overture began and I went into ecstasy. When the opera ended, came the dreaded "What did I think of it all?"

While Harvey and Paul studied French, I had taken German. I knew the plot gist as it enfolded on stage. My understanding and appreciation of music surpassed my accomplishment in the art.

"I felt the Tenor's heavy Italian spoiled the nicely built up mood, the Soprano was off tempo, and the Conductor's motions were flamboyantly distracting. The orchestra was fantastic," I said.

"Barbarian!" they said in unison as if rehearsed. "We'll never take you again."

The Times reviewer didn't use my exact words but pretty much said the same thing. Actually what I discovered, beside how pretentious my friends were, was that there were two types of music: good music and bad music. I preferred good, whatever.