by Hugh Gilmore
More surprises this week with the Met Opera live telecast season, some of them not so pleasant. I experienced the latest wrinkle the other night when I went to see the Met’s “encore” presentation of Wagner’s Tannhaüser. A family obligation had kept me from seeing the “Live in HD” presentation the previous Saturday, but the rerun was offered for Wednesday.
The hour, 6:30 p.m., was reasonable, but the Met’s website said the show would last four-and-a-half hours. That’s a long evening for me, especially since I was going alone, and I was undecided about going right up till the moment I turned the ignition key in the driveway and started off.
I had purchased my ticket for Tannhaüser back in September, sort of by luck. Seeking to avoid the online surcharge, I’d driven to the AMC-12 movie theater in nearby Plymouth Meeting to buy tickets for some of the upcoming shows. Only then did I learn this year’s good news/bad news scenarios.
The good: The theater had been physically upgraded. It had a bar, above-average concession foods, and wide, roomy, adjustable, leather seats. The bad: The seating capacity diminished from 120 seats to 91 (67 really, if you don’t count the first two rows and the handicapped-only row).
The second good: reserved seating only. No matter how late one arrived, there was a seat waiting for you if you arranged for it ahead of time. The bad: No matter how early one arrived, no seat of choice awaited you unless you’d arranged for it ahead of time.
I had not known about these changes until that September afternoon when I went to buy my pickets in person. I thought, Great, I’m ahead of the curve for once. How many tickets, for how many events, should I buy today? This season runs from Oct. 3, 2015, to April 30 next year. Who ever knows how much in advance one should plan? Isn’t there an old saw that runs, “If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans”?
I bought tickets that day for three of the first five shows, adding one extra seat so my wife could join me for “The Magic Flute” in December. I was among the first to purchase seats, I guess, because when the manager showed me the seating plan, I was able to book my favorite spot for each. I did not make plans for 2016.
By last Wednesday, however, my mind had changed. I’d decided to stay ahead of the pack by buying all of this season’s tickets I wanted. I arrived 20 minutes early: 6:10 p.m. That’s exactly when the trouble began. To negotiate my purchase I had to speak with the young man who dispenses tickets through bulletproof glass while speaking to you – and the entire lobby – through a very loud speaker embedded in the window. (I’ll call this fellow “Lucky,” a stage name contrived to spare him the embarrassment of my saying he somehow combined the ability to be wonderfully patient and loudly impatient in alternating sentences.)
Everyone’s standing-in-line nightmare started happening. You know, when you go up to the bank teller’s window needing change for a dollar because you saw the meter attendant coming, and the person in front of you in line seems to be trying to work out his or her lifetime financial plan. I was that person. I had the schedule in hand, as I said, “I want a ticket for the Jan. 16 performance of “The Pearl Fishers.”
Sold out, he said.
What? Oh, my goodness. Well, then, how about Jan. 30, “Turandot”? Sold out too? You’re kidding! No? I must have looked dismayed, because Lucky and the manager said, “Oh yes, these shows are very popular. You have to order your tickets in advance.”
“I know, I know,” I said, resisting the urge to tell hem I’d bought all my 2015s back in early September, smarty pants that I am. I noticed that four people now waited behind me for tickets to some other show, one possibly starting any minute. “I’m sorry,” I told them, “this is taking longer than I thought.” I considered stepping aside, but worried that any minute of delay was an opportunity lost to some other, more determined, opera fan.
“How about March 5, “Manon Lescaut”? I said. Lucky said, “Same thing. You gotta order these things in advance. They sell out early.” The manager beside him nodded, like, Who don’t know that?
If I hear that one more time, I thought, I’ll scream. No I can’t, I realized. There’s no time to scream. Okay, Lucky, I decided, You want “early”? try this on for size: “April 2. Madame Butterfly,” I said. His counter: “Sold out, except first row.” The line behind me was ten-people long. I looked at the schedule. Just as I was about to speak, he said, “Damn. The computer just froze! Listen everybody, it’ll take about seven minutes for it to reset.”
Pea soup-thick silence hung in he air. Lucky said, “Let’s try going in the inner lobby and using the service counter computer.” Everyone turned and headed into the interior lobby. The guy who’d been behind me rushed to get there before me. To my disbelief, Lucky started to wait on him. All he had was a question though. Then it was my turn again. I asked if the “Encore” presentations were sold out too. No, there were lots of those seats left.
I went through the calendar again with him. I bought two tickets, for my preferred locations, for the five shows I wanted to see. (Since I’m the kind of guy who has to tie a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him, I figured I’d bribe a friend to go on Wednesdays with me.) In the middle of doing this, the computer froze again. Back into the outer lobby once more. I started reciting the calendar again. Freeze again. “Damn, why does this happen to me!” Lucky shouted. Back to the inner lobby again. Worked this time. Tickets printed.
All this against the knowledge that I was the guy arranging his year while others waited for their Bugs Bunny tickets for tonight’s picture, showing now! And the fact that the clock had wound down to 6:40 for the 6:30 show.
“Thanks Lucky!” I yelled as I rushed to Theater 9, opened the door, turned the corner, rushed up the steps as the overture to Tannhaüser began, heading for the last row, last seat. Mine. At last. But, what’s this: A tiny, little old lady was sitting there. In. My seat. The rest of the row was empty. What should I do?
What would you do?
The moral of what happened next: The quest for opera tickets can turn even the gentlest of men into animals.
Hugh Gilmore is the author of several books now available in both paperback and e-book formats. His sad-but-funny memoir of growing up Irish Catholic, “My Three Suicides: A Success Story” has been a Kindle Top-100 favorite since it was first published early this year.