I went to the Washington National Opera last night to see Samson and Delilah by French composer Camille Saint-Saens. It was a last minute purchase made possible by a change in travel plans. And, as is usual for me, I did that thing where I was looking forward to it, but then on the day of the performance I start wishing I could just stay home. But happily I fought inertia and got my butt out of the house.
Pathogens Flying Everywhere
Maybe because I have been reading and talking a lot about Covid-19 over the past two weeks I was hyper aware last night of other people’s behavior. (I had been in Italy, quite near the origin of the outbreak, right as it was starting to get a foothold, so for the past two weeks I have worried about becoming DC’s patient zero. At day 15, it looks like I might be in the clear.) Anyway, to wit:
- The first thing I did was use the bathroom, not just because I had to go, but because I wanted to wash my hands. Not surprisingly for men, as I spent 20 seconds at the sink, at least two people left the bathroom without washing their hands at all.
- Then I noticed the ticket takers pawing everyone’s tickets despite the fact that they have a scanner that doesn’t require them to touch them at all. I politely made a point of not letting her touch mine and we shared a joke about it, but then I realized if I wanted a program (and I did) I would have to take it from another usher. So with a possibly tainted program, I made my way to my seat.
- Then the opera. All I could focus on was how much the singers, chorus, supernumeraries, and dancers were touching each other. So much touching, so many hands on faces. I was thinking they should re-block the whole thing during intermission so there would be no virus transmitting action on stage. I hope their union has good health insurance.
- And speaking of hands on faces, there was no part of my face that I didn’t want to touch. I finally gave in.
- Oddly, at intermission an older, elegant woman next to me offered me M&Ms from a cup that she had been eating from. In my 30+ years of concert going, no stranger has ever offered to share a snack with me. So why on the night DC confirmed its first cases of Covid-19? I declined and chuckled to myself.
- It seemed to me, that the older the person the fewer precautions they seemed to take. Uncovered coughs and all sorts. For my own part, during intermission, I executed a perfect, fully encapsulated, elbow sneeze.
Then Ruth Bader Ginsburg Walked In
The orchestra had started tuning when a smattering of applause began. I was a bit confused because the conductor doesn’t walk out when the orchestra is tuning so I didn’t know what was going on. Then I noticed in the aisle two rows ahead of me, a frail, old woman with a friend and a small group of people who seemed to be Kennedy Center personnel and at least two Secret Service agents were crossing the theater. It was 86-year old opera lover Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was walking extremely slowly making her way to her seat as the rest of the theater (including myself) realized who she was. The applause gained strength until most of the place was on its feet applauding and cheering. It was extremely heartening–and frightening. No one better give RBG Covid-19!
And it made me think how incredibly important the next election is.
An Exploding Necklace
At one point in the final act, with a full stage, with the dancers having completed the main portion of the Bacchanale, there was the sound of something raining down onto a platform. Like big wooden beads falling off of someone’s necklace. And then, seemingly confirming my ears, large gumball-sized objects started rolling off the platform where they seemed to have fallen from the neck of a chorus member or supernumerary, onto the raked stage where they made their way to the front and over the edge onto the screen that shields the orchestra pit from just that sort of calamity.
But then there were a few stragglers, probably falling out of the folds of a sparkly robe. One stopped just behind the foot of one of the dancers. Staying very much in character she elegantly flicked it behind her with her foot where it headed off stage–until it started rolling forward and landed right at the knees of Samson (Roberto Aronica) who was in the middle of singing plaintively about how he had sold out his people for a night in bed with Delilah. It made me chuckle at the wrong moment, but I don’t think anyone heard me. (One couldn’t really blame the dancer for wanting the bead out of the way, there was still lots of dancing to come. Occupational Health and Safety after all.)
A few seconds later, as the the cast was looking toward the back of the stage, another bead started to make its journey forward when Delilah herself (J’Nai Bridges) trapped it under her foot. Sadly, I didn’t see what happened to it after that. That’s a real diva–stop a rogue bead in its tracks while never losing focus.
It was a pretty fabulous night out.