This actually happened yesterday to me and my wife Miyuki. We went to LA Opera!
Sunday being April 2, and its being the fifth anniversary of the day I first met my wife-to-be stepping off the plane from Tokyo, I decided to surprise her with two tickets to the matinee of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, conducted by Kent Nagano giving his farewell at the baton, curtain being at 2pm. I’d seen it years before, at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston.
We arrived at the Music Center dressed up for the occasion at what we thought was nearly an hour early, and passed the time taking refreshments outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the terrace, snapping pictures of each other.
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I wondered why there was no sign of a crowd going in, and we soon found out. We were unaware the clocks had gone forward one hour!
So in we hurriedly went, to take our back row seats in the loge section, 95 bucks apiece, the last two in the sold out house.
Another couple, in the same fix, were waiting with a young girl usher at the upstairs outer door, told to wait for the applause after the next aria when we would all be seated. Fair enough. A quick trip to the men’s room, back to join my wife, only to find that the other couple had gone in and now we would have to wait some more. Ok, fine, but then the usher said we couldn’t go in until the intermission at the end of the second act, 45 minutes later, and we could watch on a monitor in the lobby. What? Why the difference? We’re not donors? My wife was in tears, not helped by the sounds of choral singing and cheers emanating from the inner sanctum of the theatre, and wanted to go home. The usher refused to discuss it, she was obviously planning to join the other staff members in the upper lobby for their tea break whom we’d passed on the way in, I guess, so I said to Miyuki, come along, this is ridiculous, and we opened the entrance behind the usher, and quietly walked to the far end of a corridor that led to the inner door and our seats in the back row. At the next applause, I quietly opened the door to our aisle, and we sat on the top step in the dark for a moment, just one seat away from our seats to the right, not wanting to disturb the lady on the aisle until after the next aria was over.
We sat there enthralled watching this wonderful show, when suddenly the door behind us was quietly opened and we were whisperingly asked to leave. My wife, being Japanese and startled, and wedded to polite form, did so immediately. I did not. A few minutes later I felt a pair of hands clamped on to my shoulders. A hefty security guard was trying to lift me up bodily. Being well over 200 lbs, this was not easy for him to do. He then tried to steal my binoculars from around my neck, nearly cutting off my air supply. Unsuccessful, he left, and I slipped into my seat at the invitation of the intervening elderly lady who had witnessed it all.
HOUSE OF PAYNE
What happened next was unbelievable. At the intermission the house manager, one Jim Payne whom I will not easily forget, appeared with their beefy security guards, and ordered me out of my seat and out of the theatre, or he would call the police. He did not know who I was and I wasn’t about to tell him, but I did say I was from London England, and there, in his position at the Royal Opera, a house manager, apprized of the situation, would exercise discretion. He informed me he was Canadian and cited house policy. My wife then appeared in a state of hysterics, they’d been working on her, and said I would be taken off to prison. Nonsense, I said. People around were staring. I stayed put and refused to budge, thinking to myself I wonder which camp gave him his training, and how did he manage to slip across the border, and where are the Feds from homeland security, but I said nothing.
The house manager then told me he was calling the police to have me arrested and evicted. This pushed all of my buttons as you can imagine. I produced my DGA membership card, but for all he knew it could have been my Ralph’s Club discount card. So I told him, as calmly as I could manage, to all go away and leave us alone, we would not have our afternoon at the opera ruined.
As the lights went down and the curtain went up, singers onstage, orchestra, I assured Miyuki that they would think better of it, and we’d hear no more, and so we managed to settle down and enjoy the third act. This was maestro Kent Nagano’s farewell at the baton as I said, and the performances were there to be relished. The ineffable duet between the Countess and Susanna brings tears to my eyes every time.
Cosa Mi Narri
There WAS more to come, however.
I could not believe that at the next intermission (yes, it’s a long opera), Mr. Payne suddenly reappeared with security and 2 policemen. They ordered me to stand and leave. I refused. One of them said they would arrest me. I asked what for? He said that the management said I was trespassing. I held up my ticket, and said this is a misunderstanding, we have paid for our seats, we are sitting in them, and we are not trespassing, nor are we making a disturbance; if anyone was, it was them. Their answer was that we were being ejected at the request of the theatre, had no further right to our seats, and therefore we were trespassing, and don’t make further trouble.
I said are you going to handcuff me here? One of the cops said loudly, yes, produced the handcuffs, and said you will be taken to the downtown jail and there you will be booked for trespass and for resisting arrest, and you will be incarcerated with dozens of criminals and prostitutes and prisoners with Aids. They then leaned in to take me bodily away.
It was too much for me. My heart started to pound. I’m 73, I have a dodgy heart, and I thought I would die there and then in my seat. I have always hoped that when the time came it would be in a theatre, but front of house to the merry strains of a Mozart chorus and guns pointing at me was not part of my plan.
My wife tells me that they all left at this point, and I became vaguely aware of a tap on my left shoulder with a medical person asking me if I wanted a stretcher. I shook my head, and we sat it out until the end of the show, although for us any further enjoyment of Mozart’s magic was over.
Then, leaving our seats with everybody else, Miyuki noticed that the policemen were still there waiting with Payne and the security guards!
I remember limping unrepentant, arm around my wife for support, as they cleared a way for us to the elevator, to be summarily escorted to the exit with a loud warning never ever to return to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion again, that we were marked people, and they knew where we lived.
I wonder if Placido remembers meeting me in Chicago back in 1998, when I arranged for my then wife to work with him and Renee Fleming to co-host an evening special for PBS, “Star-crossed Lovers”, under the baton of Daniel Barenboim? I wonder if Placido will do something when he hears about this misadventure?
As a Broadway producer and director and actor, with a Tony nomination yet, I know that the front of house staff is a theatre company’s direct interface with the public. The same public that hopefully buys tickets and season subscriptions and makes donations to the performing arts.
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What happened to us was truly shocking, and it is hard to believe that CEO Mark Stern and President Carol Henry might try to justify what happened, and maintain that their staff behaved appropriately. Fortunately, we have witnesses who I know would be happy to provide affidavits, if it becomes necessary.
Well, I got checked out by my doctor today, and am now checking out my next move.
I sure hope they have no influence over at the Ahmanson. We’ve adjusted our watches, and we’re planning to see Dame Edna tomorrow evening. Something for her to comment on, she’d have loved it, I’m sure.
This actually happened yesterday to me and my wife Miyuki. We went to LA Opera!