The first obstacle to overcome in this bar less theatre is the problem of where to leave your coat. Not unwisely, this depends on where you are sitting. Each section of the seating is allotted its own particular counter. This I had forgotten. After a short queue, lightened by the amusement of watching a young man in black preen himself with admirable unselfconsciousness in front of a mirror, (this gave me quite the wrong idea until he was joined by a ravishing blond) and a demand from the attendant to see my ticket, as if I had sneaked in without paying, I was instructed to leave my coat elsewhere, but where wasn’t clear since neither she nor I spoke a common language.
A well-breasted programme seller eventually led me to a box which she opened with a set of keys. There was no handle on the outside of the door merely a hole for the key. Inside, imprisoned and not pleased to see me, was a young couple. “But what about my coat?” She pointed to some hooks on the wall. Simple when you know how.
The young couple also knew their business. They had arrived early and bagged two of the three seats at the front of this plush red-velveted five-chaired stalls box. Only a child or an adult with the shortest of legs, or none at all, could have been comfortable on the remaining front chair. No leg room. Neither did the occupied chairs look any better. Clearly the Lwowians of the late 19th century were a short bunch. Perhaps they did not get enough protein from their Austrian masters. Modern Lwowians look perfectly normal. Three cheers for democracy, if that’s what they call it here.
The other two chairs were raised on a small dais behind. They had additional disadvantages as I was quick to discover. I tried to sit down but it was impossible even sitting sideways. For safety reasons the chairs were screwed to the ground. Also, being higher, the over hang from the dress circle gave only a partial view of the stage. This was not what I had paid for.
I went back into the corridor and asked the attendant whether I could go into the adjoining box which appeared to be empty. I couldn’t. She pushed me back into my allocated box demanding to see the tickets of the young couple. Perhaps they were sitting in the wrong seats.
She was missing the point. This box was not designed for a 21st century well nourished westerner who had no intention of spending the next three hours proving the point. I gave up. A book and a lonely dinner beckoned.
However, in the corridor I saw a woman who looked more authoritative. She had a badge on her fulsome breast (something of a hallmark amongst the administrative staff) but was dressed in grey rather than black. She spoke a little English. She took me to a coat attendant, instructed her to take my coat even though my ticket did not tally, though I noted some reluctance, and then invited me to sit where ever I wanted to. Anywhere.
After moving three or four times from places claimed by latecomers, I found myself sitting in the extreme left hand side of the front stalls. As the applause began for the conductor, a Chinese boy with a musical score grabbed the one empty seat to my left. Then another young couple took the two seats to my right, on their laps an array of plastic shopping bags, crowned with two French loaves. Shades of Glyndebourne or would they be munching their way through the whole of Traviata? As the music began the goodies were shoved under the girl’s seat. A picnic for the interval. A much better idea.