Madame Butterfly and Catherine the Great
Music has been a constant companion of my life. As for many of us it is much more than only songs: it reflects the society we are in, our friends and family, our relationships and the memories they create. Reflecting on this, I thought I might write down some stories from my childhood, teenage and young adult years.
So let’s talk about Russia.
In the 1990’s St Petersburg was a place with a flourishing black market for opera and ballet tickets, run by a group of old ladies. They would stand outside the box office, whispering ‘Swan Lake’ as you walked by and for 10 US dollars they would sell you a ticket to one of the most mesmerising music theatre performances you’d ever experience. Living there in winter of ’97 I managed to became friends with one of the scalpers. I gave her my phone number and occasionally received calls with ‘special offers’.
Friday morning, the 16th of January 1998, it was the end of a busy week and minus twenty degrees outside.
We decided to see ‘Madame Butterfly’ at the Mariinsky Theatre but needless to say, it was sold out. Going straight into action, I picked up the phone to ring my friend and asked for help. ‘Don’t worry, let me make a few enquiries and I’ll get back to you within the hour’, she replied. After an anxious wait wondering if we will see Madame Butterfly that night, I received a call with very clear instructions: ‘Meet me at the Monument of Catherine the Great at 6pm’.
We made our way through the snow to see my friend the old lady, waiting there wrapped in a thick coat wearing a Shapka, a Russian fur hat that keeps you warm in the coldest of winters. As we approached, she pulled a small plastic bag out of her sock: tickets for Madame Butterfly at the Mariinsky, seats right next to the former Tsar’s box.