Today I learned that wine is the perfect way to start and finish, anything.
It is currently midnight on the Friday eve of Canadian Thanksgiving and my wet bangs are sticking to the sides of my forehead while slowly dripping onto my charcoal jeans. I grab a long tuft of blond hair and flick it around my left ear. I remove the cork which sits nestled into a freshly opened bottle of Shiraz and wait as several gluggs splash into a Riedel stemless crystal glass. I close my eyes and pretend the illumination from my screen is actually the warmth we find in the mid afternoon summer sun. I cup my glass in both hands and roll the crystal back and forth to slowly warm the elixir within. I raise the crimson liquid to my lips, wallow a few moments in my mouth and then slowly slide my tongue to the roof. My veins fill with vino, my arms roll back and shoulders relax.
Fast forward to 6:30pm. I am standing on the second floor of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, staring out at the hustle and bustle of University Avenue waiting for my guest of honour Sarah Topa to arrive with a glass of cold vino blanco. We clink glasses and sip. Wine is the perfect way to ready the mind, body and spirit for the Opera.
Sarah is one of my best friends who I met in high school way back when. We are kindred spirits and I was elated this summer when I found out that she would be moving from London UK to Toronto in the Fall. We have been two friends separated by an ocean and our busy lives but connected through our colourful history and the help of social media.
This would be Sarah’s second Opera. She confessed to me her first experience was rather sour: a German Opera which she watched during her visit to Budapest void of English surtitles. She was ecstatic to read and follow along with the story this time around.
We finished the very last drop in our glass and found our seat just before the lights dimmed and the crowd grew silent. Il Trovatore is the first of the COC’s season, so I sat back and relaxed with anticipation as the orchestra lurched to life and the stage filled with light.
Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore has captivated audiences since its premiere in 1853 with its explosive, melodramatic tale of a vengeful gypsy Azucena, her son Manrico’s romance with the noblewoman Leonora, and his rivalry with Conte di Luna. Il Trovatore had all of the “roll your eyes” romanticism one looks for complimented by incredible vocal talent. The sets, costumes and colour palate were far more subdued than the typical pomp and panache. This story of gypsy love was set across simple charcoal and grey scenes which were often dramatically enhanced through streams of light, silhouettes and shadows.
This week has left me exhausted and vacant. I found myself quickly lost in the melancholy grey of the story and its characters. South African soprano Elza van den Heever played the part of lovelorn Leonora a voice with such power it really stole the show. Each time Leonora wailed and winced on stage I found myself clenching my teeth and clutching my fists. My body was reacting physically to her pain and plight. I’ve recently felt a self induced burden on my shoulders much of which I attribute to my grief and loss of the warm summer months. It’s that Autumnal melancholy which I can see has already started to furrow the brows of Toronto’s most sincere happy go lucky personalities.
After the show Sarah and I walked across University Avenue in search for my bike. A quick hug and she was off on the subway and I stood on the corner of the street as the pitter patter of rain played on my shoulders. I stared down at the wet pavement which had turned into a midnight mirror. I could see the bright reflection of the Four Seasons Centre and watched as a colourful blur of well dressed theatre goers filled the street below my feet.
On the peddle home I embraced the silence of the city. My hair quickly became wet as a raced through rain clouds. I couldn’t help but smile when I realized the entire city was charcoal grey. It is as if I had just flown off the stage and arrived into the real world with a colour palette permanence…where damp rain and dimly lit streets set the scene and the chime of my bicycle bell was the only thing reminding me that I was a living, breathing boy ready to tackle the world.