On Thursday night, I attended my first opera, expecting to fall in love.
Despite the champagne and the appreciated occasion to dress up, alas, opera and I are not meant to be.
Instead, I fell in love with a city I had long dismissed.
Upon our Aliyah in 2004, we headed straight for Jerusalem, as many Anglos do, expecting the landing to be softened by the pervasiveness of spoken English and reasonable selection of American products. After an uncomfortable six years there, we bolted for the greener pastures of rural Israeli life on a moshav and I never looked back. Until the opera.
I was prepared for opera logistics, thanks to this handy guide published the day prior. And as a consistent overachiever (code word for obsessive) I did my homework.
I read the synopsis and YouTube’d the preview.
I knew what an aria was.
I knew not to clap.
I brought a blanket.
What I was decidedly unprepared for, however, was the crowd. I’m used to a Jerusalem audience and I know how to read them. But these people… these people were different. They were older, they were blue bloody, they were modest. And I don’t mean tznius modest – I mean wearing a twinset when you can afford a couture ballgown and strolling over to the venue in understated flats when you can afford to hire a driver while sitting in the back wearing stiletto Manolo Blahniks. This was my first introduction to the educated, secular, cultured, genteel Jerusalem of generations past.
See, I have this aunt. I won’t name her since she values her privacy (which kills me since I’m so proud of what she’s accomplished, but she belongs to the culture to which I’m referring, and they’re into privacy and staying under the radar.) Ever since I moved here, she and I have lunched together monthly. By now, I know her quite well and have cultivated a deep respect and admiration for her. I spend the vast majority of our lunches listening, because she is a woman with stories. And I love stories.
She tells of a Jerusalem she knew in years past. A Jerusalem that valued nuanced, European manners, reason, academia, culture and Zionism. A Jerusalem free of the crushingly heavy, exclusively religious atmosphere felt today. A Jerusalem where thinkers flourished and lavish society parties were thrown and enjoyed by supreme court justices, philosophers and heads of government. A Jerusalem that raised and inspired Amoz Oz.
Although she waxes poetic about Jerusalem’s heritage of years gone by, it’s as if I’m listening to tales of a ghost. An imagined figment for which I have no proof of existence. But the audience at the opera — I’ve never seen them before. (They must be hiding in Nayot?)
I’ve never before felt the sophisticated Jerusalem presence that my aunt speaks of — it felt entirely unlike the Jerusalem with which I’m familiar — the Jerusalem from which I escaped. And I loved it. I basked in the familiarity and comfort of intellectual conversation, music appreciation and a dedication to night life outside perfunctory restaurant experiences.
People say that the last vestige of “the old Jerusalem” is at the Israel Museum. But I disagree. It can be found, and felt, at the opera.