October 23, 2011

A moment to savor: the perfect comeback

I think I’m safe in publishing this blog essay as I’m 99.36% certain that my subject is not likely to visit these pages.  

We’ve all found ourselves in that situation in which we’re involved in a verbal confrontation with a know-it-all.  Too often, we end up gnashing our teeth in frustration for the rest of the day because the perfect retort only occurred to us afterwards, when Smarty-pants had departed in smug triumph and it was too late.

That’s why, fully one week later, I’m still enjoying a moment of triumph of my own at last Sunday’s matinee performance of Aida by Virginia Opera.

The scene:  the company was on its Northern Virginia tour, taking the production to the Performing Arts Center at George Mason University in Fairfax. Fairfax being a suburb of Washington D.C., this tour always draws a good crowd; the region is a hot-bed of knowledgeable, sophisticated music-lovers. I had long since delivered my usual pre-curtain lecture to a packed hall.  

Now generally, once the talk is complete I don’t stick around, but hop back onto I-95 back home to Newport News on the Virginia Peninsula, cruising along with a football game on the radio.

Today, however, I stuck around until the single intermission to do a little business: I’ve got a book to sell.  (I’ve posted about this before - it’s my soon-to-be-published collection of spoofs and parodies I call The Opera Zoo: Singers, Composers and Other Primates, available in December from Kendall Hunt Publishing.  If you want a copy, email me at glenn.winters@vaopera.org)

So I set up shop at a table in the main lobby and was gratified to find a steady stream of my pre-curtain-lecture groupies coming by to turn in their order forms.

And then ----  SHE appeared.

Ageless (but at least 68 I’d say), stout, dressed in a dreary gray suit and resembling Agatha Christie’s doppelganger, a woman with a business-like air and a thundercloud face began to hold court.

“I have a complaint”, she intoned in much the same manner I’m betting Queen Victoria used for her “We are not amused” line.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am,” I said smoothly (I’m Mr. Smooth in these situations, you know.)  “What seems to be the problem?”  My charm factor was at about a 9 out of 10.

“Who was in charge of this production?”, she continued with ram-rod straight bearing, apparently impervious to 9.0 charm.  Might have to crank it up that last notch.  “Your grasp of history is AWFUL.  You have them praying to the goddess Isis in the first scene, but then the last scene is in the temple of Vulcan.”  Both her chins began to tremble in sheer indignation.  “Isis and Vulcan date from completely different eras of Egyptian history.  They could not have both been worshipped by these people.”  Then, leaning in to drive home her argument:  “Don’t you KNOW THAT?!?!?!?”  (Ah, light dawns.  You’re a retired professor of antiquities at this fine university.  And if you’re not retired, you should seriously give it some consideration.)

With the charm-mill operating at full tilt, I gave her what I hoped was a George Clooney smile of beatific friendliness and, without missing a beat, blandly replied:

“Well, you see, we didn’t have much choice there.  You’d have to take this up with the composer Verdi, because [wait for it] - it’s in the libretto.”

Three beats of silence.  Her eyes bugged out.  Her jaw dropped.  She was stymied.  Khadaffi was chased out of hiding.  Mubarek was on the outs.  The Berlin Wall came tumbling down.  Victory.


“That’s right.”

“Well, ..I... that’s... er...”  

And with that, she turned on her heel and slunk off in defeat.  I turned to young Katie, our P.R. Director who was sitting next to me selling subscriptions.  She was smiling.

Am I petty to relate this story?  Is it small of me?  Is it wrong to take such pleasure in humbling another human being?  Should I, you know, get over it?

Well, sure.  And I will.

Any day now.

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