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Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Flute For You: Tales from the Rush Line

This is a piece about not going to the opera.
Banished from the Temple: The Julie Taymor Magic Flute.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2009 The Metropolitan Opera
Thursday afternoon: I'm heading into Manhattan on a personal matter. I decide, at the last minute to swing by the Metropolitan Opera later in the afternoon, to try to get a ticket to see Mozart's The Magic Flute in its abridged, family-friendly, English-language incarnation. (This shorter version is known to some as The Magic Piccolo.)

This was how I saw Flute last year, walking up at 7pm and getting lucky with a "rush" ticket in the orchestra. The Met's Rush program supplies lucky opera-goers who line up for seats with low-cost tickets, usually in the orchestra. The program, sponsored by philanthropist Agnes Varis has resulted in fuller houses and an "open-to-the-public" feel at 30 Lincoln Center, characteristic of Peter Gelb's reign as general manager.

After asking at the box office if there were any cheap seats left, I went down to the Lincoln Center concourse (right by the double glass doors that I walk through on Monday nights) and got on line with the folks who are hoping to score tickets to tonight's final Flute. The time was about 4pm.

I found myself in an interesting little group, thrown together for two hours by the randomness of yellow-chain safety barriers. There was a mother taking her little boy, probably to his first opera. A young soprano on her way up, in town for auditions. A small crew of Chinese girls who did not know much about opera. Three guys from Brooklyn taking turns in a folding lawn chair. A nice British couple. And so forth.

At 5:30, Metropolitan Opera security comes by. We're told to get off the floor, fold up any chairs, and tighten up the line. The "line proper" forms, with all of us eager Mozart-lovers packing in between the ugly yellow plastic chain barriers. The wait continues.

Five minutes later, the line moves forward, into a subterranean antechamber beneath the box office. Some of us are allowed up the steps. They're definitely getting tickets. We're the "maybes." So we stand on the other side of the glass doors at the foot of the lobby escalator. We stand in a cold draft for 20 minutes. Refreshing. Reminds me of standing outside Tower Records on Feb. 28, 1991 to get tickets for Metallica's "Snake Pit" tour. Ahh, memories.

We climb the steps. (Apparently we're not allowed to use the escalator.) The steps are narrowed by more chain-and-pole barriers. I reach the top, nearly tripping on a pole once, which would send me and my laptop tumbling down like the giant rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I keep my balance, and resume the wait, tapping out the Nibelung rhythm from Das Rheingold to relieve boredom. Dah-dada dah dada DAH-dah dah.

They line us up on the steps. People are going to the four box office windows open, getting their tickets. I'm fifth from the cutoff. All they have left for us is standing room in the Family Circle. Considering that my normal seats are in the Family Circle to begin with, that the abridged Flute has no intermission, and that my legs are tired, I step out of the opera house, go have a cup of hot coffee, and start writing.

You know the rest.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats