Opera lovers are to opera what rioting football fans are to the Cup Final: an undesirable element. Almost all of them are boring to distraction, bourgeois vultures so utterly sedentary in their theatrical tastes that it is not surprising to hear their unconsidered applause acknowledging the most dreadful performances. An evening at the opera is still regarded as a special treat, something to do whether informed about it or not. Thus it is that the audience presents a bizarre conjunction of total ignorance and programmed knowledge: the young merchant bankers striving to impress some pale English virgin, as if Covent Garden were on the same circuit as Ascot and the fourth of June; old Tory crows, bejewelled as if it were an official reception or exclusive fascist function. The expense of such an evening is something which in itself delights those who associate costliness with quality. It is rarely a proven equation, but they are hardly likely to realise that. To appreciate the amusing foibles of these enthusiasts at play, it is necessary to catch them in the intervals. Rheingold, Salome and Elektra are to be avoided since they have no interval breaks, and consequently afford little of the class-system’s vaudeville. During these serious operas, many of the audience are regretting that they did not pee at the very last minute, and the toilets throng after the Gods have entered Valhalla.
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