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Madeleine Begun Kane,
Humor Columnist,

Madeleine Begun Kane


(NOTE: This column led to my 2008 Robert Benchley Society Award For Humor)

There will inevitably come a day when some misanthrope, posing as a pal, drags you to The Opera. Don't panic ... unless Richard Wagner composed the opera, in which case playing dead will help you match the mood of the music.

But even if you have the relative good fortune to see an opera by one of the "i" composers -- Verdi, Rossini, or Puccini - - you will have to prepare for your ordeal. Six years in a music conservatory chained to opera-oozing headphones should suffice. Or ... you could read this guide.


Clean and pressed evening attire should be worn to any opera performance ... with the possible exception of "opera under the stars." Why dress up to spend an evening scrunched in the dark in seats apparently designed for pygmies? Good question! So you won't embarrass your escort during intermissions ... in the unlikely event he or she makes it back from the bathroom.


Chances are, the opera won't be in English. I know -- it's shocking. But even those relatively nice "i" composers had the audacity to favor Italian. (You know how rude and inconsiderate foreigners can be.)

Although this can make it tougher to know what's going on, there's no need to panic. Most opera companies thoughtfully provide translations in pamphlets called libretti. Not only do libretti provide helpful plot clues, but they can be tossed at the stage in the absence of fruit.

Additionally, many opera companies project English translations onto screens throughout the performance, providing a handy excuse not to look at the singers.

But thanks to new federal legislation, such opera aids will soon be unnecessary. Starting next year, all operas will be required to comply with "The Uniform Opera Plot Act" a/k/a "Leave No Opera Hater Behind," which I've reproduced here for your convenience:

Whereas, Opera is an elitist art which shouldn't be funded by the NEA; and
Whereas, Nobody understands it.
Now, therefore, all opera plots shall be as follows:
ACT ONE: Man and woman meet and fall in love, and everything is hunky-dory.
ACT TWO: An obstacle to man and woman's happiness rears its ugly head. It may be another man, another woman, one or more parents, a terrible misunderstanding, a war, or a dread disease. This obstacle shall make both of them (and the audience) miserable for an interminable period of time.
ACT THREE: The suffering man and woman bemoan their tragic circumstances at the top of their lungs for at least one hour. Right before the final curtain, the soprano (ie., the very large woman who's given you a terrible headache) dies. The entire audience cheers, and she takes many bows, mistakenly thinking the cheers are for her singing ... and not her death.


Your evening won't be complete unless you impress your date. To create the illusion that you are an educated opera buff, simply memorize these insightful observations: (Note: You needn't understand these comments. Nobody does.)
  I've heard better high C's.
  His vibrato sounded wide, don't you think?
  Beethoven should have stuck to symphonies.
  She's no Callas.
  He's no Pavarotti.
  Pavarotti's no Pavarotti.


You're nearly ready for your opening act. Just master these etiquette rules and let the overture begin:
  1. Singing along should be limited to the loud parts.
  2. Yelling "Your voice stinks, you lousy bum!" is discouraged ... unless you're in Italy.
  3. Using the conductor for target practice is frowned upon ... except by the musicians.
  4. If you must chew gum, masticate in rhythm.


The opera isn't over until the fat lady sings ... and sings ... and sings.

© Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.

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