Culture in Threes

About a month ago Ashley went down to the main opera hall to see about some cheap tickets.  She was figuring that we might as well expose the kids to some high culture here in the heart of high-culture land, now that we have two balls in our dancing shoes and our composer of the month is about to change from Beethoven to Mozart.  As she was in the process of purchasing some cheap seats (for 9 euros apiece) for Madame Butterfly, supposing it an appropriate beginner opera for the girls (and me too), she was offered an even better deal for a ballet.  It seems that in a promotion to allow kids access to the ballet they offer some kid’s seats for 15 euros apiece.  And knowing that kids don’t usually come alone, they offer accompanying adult tickets for only 7 euros apiece.  The deal sealer is that they have kid’s seats in the front row of a box, with the parent’s seats just behind.

The night comes for us to use our tickets to Manon, which is both an opera and a ballet.  In this case it is a ballet with music by Jules Massenet.  The girls get dressed up in their finest dresses, and I am in my best aside from my ball tuxedo – which turns out to be a black dress shirt and tan Carhartt pants.  We take the tram and the subway, which takes us through an underground hangout for all those looking for a cheap beer on this cold Sunday evening, and we feel a little conspicuous.  But as we rise up to street level in front of the State Opera House, we enter another world.  Going through the front doors and up the grand stairs in the main foyer is worth the price of admission in itself (even without kid prices).  With people dressed in everything from ball gowns to blue jeans, I feel more like Cinderella entering the ball than I did when we really were entering a ball.  It really is amazingly beautiful.  We’re shunted from the main thalwig of the flow of people part of the way up and down a hallway with doors on one side.  We open the door to box number six, and inside is a small anteroom of dark red velvet where we take off our coats and hang them on hooks.  Through an archway is the box proper, with six seats in three rows – three in the front, two in the middle, and one behind.  I can’t help but think of the last theater box I looked into from this angle, and whether John Wilkes Booth would have broken his leg if he jumped from this height. Zoey and Logan get two of the front seats, next to an elderly woman that is already seated, and Ashley and I sit in behind them.  The third-row seat doesn’t get occupied until the lights go down, and even after three acts and two intermissions, I never see the woman’s face that sits there.  We’re in a box on the first of five tiers and halfway back from the stage.  The main theater is huge, with walls of boxes rising straight up to a giant chandelier.  We stare, amazed at the pomp and beautiful people entering.  Soon the lights go down and the orchestra starts, and we discover that the architects were only thinking about the front row patrons in these boxes.  On this side of the theater, everyone behind the first row has to lean way over to the left to see the stage. Ashley is almost in my chair too and I can feel the woman behind me getting closer as the curtain rises.  Eventually, Ashley moves to the front row with Logan in her lap, so that she can relieve the pain in her neck.  The tragic story of Manon elicits many questions from the girls during the intermissions, when we sample the chocolates in one of the salons outside the box.  We hadn’t prepared the kids on the story line since we were blinded by the cheap cost and lost track of time.  Though the story spirals downward until Manon’s death in the desert outside of New Orleans (?), we all agree that our favorite scene is the post card-game drunken whirl.  At the end we’re all tired, from the late hour and having to explain everything, but also very happy from seeing ballet better than anything we’ve seen in Seattle.  I’m amazed thatstayed engaged through the whole thing.

Several weeks later we’re back at the Opera House for Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.  This time we’re way up on the fifth tier and almost above the stage.  My seat is in the front row, but I have to scoot forward in my seat to look over the edge and down at the orchestra.  I can see maybe half the stage.  The girls are across from me on the other side of the theater, but are one row behind me and can see maybe a couple of square meters of stage.  After about 10 minutes of the first act I have to sit back and relax the many parts of my body aching from being in an unnatural position.  It turns out I don’t miss much in that position, because I can sit back and listen instead of mainly watching the orchestra and listening.  At the first intermission the girls are disappointed because they can’t see anything, and Butterfly wears a kimono instead of wings.  I take Logan for the second act, while Ashley and Zoey move into the aisle near their seats to be able to see something – anything.  Logan sits on my knee and looks down for most of the act, but eventually gets restless and can’t sit still waiting for Pinkerton to reappear.  With no intermission between the 2nd and 3rd acts, there is no break for us, but Logan eventually falls asleep on my lap.  I lean over just in time to see Cio-Cio-San disappear behind a paper blind and the curtain falls.  On the tram ride home I can sense Ashley’s disappointment in my refusal to say much of anything positive about the evening.  Maybe it was the first-time luster missing from the theater, our awful seats compared to the awesome box, or the difference in action between opera and ballet, but this was a completely different experience – one that I will not repeat anytime soon.

This afternoon, after Zoey took a bus and tram home from her school by herself for the first time, we met Ashley and Logan at the Rathaus for some ice skating.  We skated there once before, but that time wasn’t so warm (maybe 50 degrees) or late in the day.  The Rathaus is the gothic city hall of Vienna built in the 1880s with a big park out front.  In the winter time, the city builds refrigerated rinks in the park that includes two hockey-sized areas linked by a big figure-eight path through the trees.  A third rink is reserved for a game something like curling, although it was kiddy rink last time we were there.  Between the rinks is a boardwalk that has semi-temporary open tents where you can rent skates, eat sausages with mustard, or drink mulled wine.  The boards also don’t dull the skates too much, so you can either walk or skate around.  The girls have grown to love skating and the Rathaus is one of the coolest places to do it.  As the sun sets, lights come on illuminating the many arches and alcoves of the building, as well as the trees and bushes in the park.  When Pink Floyd comes on the sound system it’s better than any black-lit basement that I can remember being in. We take a dinner break of first ham-and-cheese crepes, and then chocolate crepes.  And eventually we have to leave to make bedtime, for tomorrow is another school day.  Unfortunately, the skating season ends at the Rathaus the first week of March, so we might not be back – at least this year.

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