A Night at the Opera

by Genevieve

I’m staying at the cutest little hostel in Arles, called Auberge du Voyageur. One of my roommates is here from Bordeaux in order to perform in an opera competition. Her name is Claire Baudouin, and if you know anything at all about classical music and you haven’t heard of her yet, get ready. She’s gonna be huge.

Her voice is like a tiny shot of espresso with a whole packet of sugar–it’s warm and sweet, but subtly powerful enough to leave you wide awake at the edge of your seat, straining to catch every delicious drop. And you thought caffeine was addicting. To meet her, she has a fresh, sunny demeanor, which is only magnified when she sings. But don’t underestimate her because of her friendly attitude. Her performance is charmingly persuasive. She leaves the audience with the impression that she could have lulled them to sleep if she wanted, but preferred to leave them drooling on the edge of their seats, waiting for her next angelic note like trained puppies waiting for a liver snap. She’s only 24.

My other roommate and I enjoyed a lovely picnic by the Rhone while Claire got ready for her performance. Maybe it was the French riverside or the bottle of wine we decimated that made us brave enough to haggle enthusiastically with the ticket salesmen. After repeatedly waving a 10€ note from the middle-aged ticket vendor to the twenty-something usher, and insisting we didn’t understand a word of French (which is not entirely true, because I totally knew they were telling us the show cost 20€), the price magically dropped to 15€ for both of us. Another 10€ reluctantly emerged from my wallet, and I held my breath and hoped they would give me change rather than call me out for being cheap. I got my change, and if they did snicker at me, they had the decency to do it in French behind my back. Success.

The show was incredible. I’m not sure what was the most impressive part: the 21 talented singers from around the world, or the gorgeous ancient Roman courtyard where the performance was held. Tonight was the semi-finals of a larger competition. According to Claire, she came to perform in the first round of auditions yesterday, and learned she would be continuing this morning. They will announce the finalists from this evening’s performance tomorrow morning. Stay tuned.

To my right sat a young lady who seemed about my age, maybe a year or two older. She heard me explaining the different voice parts to my roommate and asked me if I were a singer. I told her that I’d taken lessons but never competed, and we got to talking a little bit during intermission. Apparently, she had come from a city north of Paris to sing in this competition, and been eliminated. I asked her how long she had been singing, and she said that she started studying when she was 16, but quit for a while to become a midwife. Keep in mind, this girl cannot be more that 25, if that. She looks about 20. And here she is telling me that she’s a classically trained opera singer, and a professional midwife. Plus she’s at least bilingual, if she doesn’t know any more languages. I’m just staring at her like, “I write things…I know words…that’s it…” Fortunately for me, neither my awed expression nor my inadequate anecdotes deterred her from talking to me. She went on:

“I wanted to learn to be a midwife, but when I met some really talented singers, they reminded me how much I love it. They told me when you find something that you really love…something that you are…something that makes you…” She couldn’t find the word in English.

“Passionate?”

“Yes- passion. Exactly. But it’s very difficult…”

The lights went down and the second act began.

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