My father and I have started a new tradition: Tuesdays at the Metropolitan Opera. In order to support such a lavish habit, we have taken advantage of the Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rush Tickets program, which provides 200 orchestra seats at a mere $20 a ticket.
As would be expected, such an offer attracts hordes of New Yorkers, with the most resolute opera fans arriving as early as 10 a.m. to assure their place in line. The line itself is quite a scene, a miniature New York, complete with eccentrics, local politics and plenty of kibitzing. There are young professionals in suits, little old ladies in fur coats, couples sitting next to each other silently passing back and forth sections of the Times, students from Julliard analyzing scores, packed lunches from Fairway and Zabars and foreigners reading books in their native language. Every kind of chair-like apparatus imaginable is used to avoid sitting on the floor. On opera Tuesdays, I have my own routine to deal with the rigors of the rush line. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Check. Bottle of seltzer? Check. Plenty of reading material? Double check. Over the course of numerous rush lines, I have developed
demure line habits. I treat it as if it were study hall, a chance to catch up on reading and get some work done. My father, on the other hand, believes in a more convivial approach, often striking up conversations with our line-mates, using slight variations of the nightclub classic, “Do you come here often?” as a conversation starter. I’ll leave the line to get a cup of coffee and when I get back, my father fills me in on the details of
“She’s from Japan, told me about a great noodle spot in Midtown, likes to snowboard.” Or, “See that girl in the front of the line? She’s from Austria, got here at 9 a.m.!” The limited number of rush tickets makes your position in line crucial, and people often perform head counts upon arrival. It also makes operagoers extremely vigilant of any surreptitious activity in the line.
“People sneak their friends in all the time,” one rush line veteran told me. “They say they’re just talking, they’re not going to buy tickets, but they do get tickets, and then the people behind them are out of luck. Like these guys,” he says, pointing to a group of people in front of us. “They weren’t here an hour ago!”
The opera line is like a sociological experiment in self-governance. With no central authority to regulate it, the people themselves are the police. My father and I don’t possess such a misanthropic view and tend to believe in the best of people. Patrons who are talking to their friends are just talking to their friends. At the same time, we secretly hope that others will bring swift justice to brazen line intruders. At around 5:30 p.m., the line begins to tighten as people prepare for the tickets to finally go on sale. When the box office does open, the whole process is over in a flash. People new to the opera scamper over to seating diagrams to find out where they will be sitting, while the serious opera buffs know simply by looking at their seat number: “Row M, seat 26, hmm, not bad, although I would have preferred row L, seat 24.”
After the line, there is about a two-hour break before the opera begins, just enough time to grab dinner and return the beach chairs to the closet. The rush tickets are given out in consecutive order; often you’ll find yourself in close proximity to your newly minted friends from the line.
“There’s the woman from Japan,” my father points out at intermission. “I’m going to ask her what she thinks about this production.”
I just stay seated and read the synopsis for the second act.
As Tuesdays at the Met continues, we learn more opera etiquette each week. We know when to clap (and more importantly, when not to), have acquired more discerning ears—“The soprano was a little shrill, no?”—and recently, I was even brave enough to shout my first “bravo.” My father and I are now regulars on the opera line, and with that we often run into other rush habitués.
“Remember the line for Carmen? That was crazy!” my father says to Christian, from Paris.
“It was,” he answers, “but not as bad as La Boheme.”
We both nod in agreement.
Lucas Corcoran is a jazz performance major at the City College of New York. He also writes and edits for the college’s newspaper, The Campus.
Trackback from your site.