Pemberton Goes to the Opera
Michael Pemberton pushed open the lightly gilded men’s room door. He could still hear the voice of the soprano as he walked through the threshold. Tonight’s production of Christopher Ulang’s new opera Crimea was challenging, discordant, and grim. The house was filled with ambitious music students awaiting the first words in over thirty years from the reclusive composer. Inside the bathroom Michael saw a hulk of a man huddled between the urinals. His tuxedo shirt was bloodied, bow tie hanging over his shoulder, hair wet and messy. He had a bruise under his left eye and a long gash that ran down the length of his pant leg to a pair of shoes covered in mud.
When Michael approached, he immediately recognized the man as Charles Finnois, the critic known for his vitriolic reviews of contemporary opera. Finnois had a reputation for taking a composer’s work personally, and if an opera didn’t quite live up to his critical ear, like a scorned lover, he’d set out on a war path raging against the piece for months in any newspaper or magazine that would have him.
Finnois leaned his head back against the wall and groaned. “Are you alright?” Michael said. The plum-colored bruise under his left eye twitched. “I’d rather not talk. It just fell apart.” Michael nodded and then heard the sound of clapping. Intermission. In twenty seconds, Finnois would be surrounded by a line of old, half-seeing men, doing everything they could to relieve themselves. “Shall I help you up?” No response.
So Michael stood there, wondering what to do and thought about how odd it was that even in the rarified atmosphere of the opera house, where every note is crafted and considered, where performers cover imperfections with makeup, where guests button themselves tightly into impossible outfits and speak of important things, entropy still pokes through, kicking up fights and laughing at out cultivated efforts to stave off the specter of death.