Want to measure your cultural coefficient? Take this simple opera quiz. (Answers below).
1 In “Night at the Opera,” what does Groucho say when the fat lady sings?”
2 What does Nessun Dorma mean in English?
3 The melody from Musetta’s Waltz in “La Boheme” was used for what hit single?
4 Why were there only three tenors?
5 What’s the first line of the Humming Chorus from Madama Butterfly?
6 Where did the Phantom go after leaving the opera house basement?
Answers to opera quiz:
1 “Was that High C or vitamin D?”
2 “Nobody Sleeps,” unless you accidentally bought tickets to “Cats,” in which case everybody sleeps.
3 “Don’t You Know,” Della Reese, 1959, RCA Victor
4 Four would have made a barbershop quartet.
6. Grant’s Tomb
Bonus question: Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? See Question 6.
As you can see, I’m brushing up. We’re going to the opera next month. And not any old opera. We’re going to the Palais Garnier in Paris.
The opera is Rossini’s La Cenerentola – Cinderalla. But that’s not important. What matters is that we’ll be back in the breath-taking Palais Garnier. It’s one of civilization’s perfect achievements, right there alongside macaroni and cheese.
Napoleon III commissioned the Palais Garnier in 1861. Designed by Charles Garnier, it was completed in 1875. It was the primary home of Parisian opera until 1989. In that year, the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, they opened the Opera Bastille
These days, the Palais Garnier is used principally for ballet. Occasionally opera returns. When it does, we do, too.
The Palais Garnier seems to have the world’s entire supply of gold in the lobby. And that’s only its second most beautiful feature.
High above the 1,974-seat auditorium, Marc Chagall painted the ceiling. He actually painted 2,400 square feet of frescoes. I don’t remember the opera we saw on our first visit. I spent three hours looking up at Chagall’s work.
Palais Garnier has a white marble staircase. There’s a seven-ton bronze and crystal chandelier. The 60-foot-long grand foyer, with gilding, lights and paintings, is where Versailles goes to see something pretty. You can tour the opera house, even if you don’t like opera. I go for both because opera and I have deep roots.
In 1831, French composer Ferdinand Herold wrote an opera comique about a pirate called “Zampa,” which is my last name.
But back to Groucho. He once famously said he wouldn’t belong to a club that would have him. That’s how I feel about the Palais Garnier. It’s an exquisite treasure. It has no business letting me in. But I’m going anyway. I’ve checked the dress code. Tuxedos or suits not mandatory. Hoodies, cargo shorts, flip flops? Out. It’s opera, not motocross.
Dinner’s going to be across the street at Café de la Paix. Built in 1861, it’s as famous as the neighboring opera house. Zola ate there. Tchaikovsky, too. I checked OpenTable, they left no reviews. Also went to the website. Couldn’t find dollar sign emojis indicating cost. There was just a wallet with a bloody knife plunged through it. Is that bad? If so, no problem. I’ll slip ‘em a signed copy of my opera.
If you’ve never been to an opera, here’s all you need to know – many people die on stage. The means vary: poison, stabbing… Not sure how La Cenerentola ends, but here’s what I hope: The Wicked Stepmother gets arrested for unpaid overtime. She goes to jail. Forced to watch “Cats” continuously as part of her sentence, she dies in agony. Three tenors and a Volga boatman form a barbershop quartet and sing the last line from “Good Night Ladies.” Groucho declares it an F sharp.
Mike Zampa is a media relations consultant and former newspaper editor and columnist who, along with his wife, splits time between the Dordogne Valley and San Francisco Bay Area.