If you’re going to live in Iowa, you need to go to the Opera.
Listen, like you, I hear “opera” and pull my baseball cap down a little tighter as I check the schedule for Monster Truck Shows at the fairgrounds. I get it. We Iowans have other summer treats: the small-town carnivals that specialize in deep-fried foods that are a warm-up for the State Fair; the delicious hot dogs sold outside the grocery stores by laughing older men wearing white aprons and white fluted hats; and, most importantly, the sweet corn stands that magically appear on every corner with an awning over the flatbed truck and an old farmer sitting on a folding chair in the truck shade. But the Des Moines Metro Opera is world-famous. People come from all over the United States to see the three shows produced each summer. It is an event that it without parallel in the Midwest. In other words, my wife wanted to go. So we went.
It was opening night for Eugene Onegin: a Russian Opera of all things. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you about the amazingly lyrical music, singing that makes you wonder if it is fake it’s so good, and an immediacy to the staging where you might believe you are a member of the chorus and start singing. Nope. I want to tell you about the gun shot.
Guns have an interesting recent history in Iowa, if you haven’t heard. Everybody and their mother can now go packing under the Iowa Carrying Weapons law merely by making a small request to your local sheriff. No longer do you have to come forward and give a reason why you need to carry two handguns tucked in your belt and one hidden in your boot when you shop at Wal-Mart. You just need to get a permit. Really. And the video games and the movies that are gorefests of shootings? We are all so jaded that even vegetarians are blasé about all the mayhem and are seen leaving their movie seats for popcorn in the lull between murders.
WE ARE GUN CRAZY — RIGHT??!
Well, apparently not at the opera. When you walk into the cool, modern opera hall in Indianola, where the Des Moines Metro Opera performs, there is this gilded sign of welcome:
But tacked on the wall within a few feet is this cautionary notice:
Oh no! Not a “gunshot!” Yes. During the second act. I actually heard the shot. Do you want to hear it? Snap your fingers. There, you heard it. Terrifying.
What’s going on here? Not a clue. But, here’s what should be going on. . . . Eugene Onegin is a dangerous opera. It is full of love, passion, love lost, regret, despair, hard choices, and gutting it out. It is an opera that is dangerous to your heart. It could kill you. The gunshot in Act II? Not so much. I want to believe that this sign was created by someone from the Des Moines Opera — a romantic opera-nut of course — making fun of all this gun craziness. This is a deflection joke: watch my right hand while my left hand palms the coin.
This sign alone is why you should go to the opera. Last productions of Eugene Onegin are tonight and July 13th. And, by the way, leave that derringer in your boot at home.