The Opera Glasses: Seeing Through a Glass Clearly

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Long ago, when I was a star-struck teenager in Montreal, I would attend matinees on Wednesday afternoons. On these theatrical expeditions, I was accompanied by my mother who considered it “cultural enrichment” (her notes to my teachers on Thursday mornings always attributed my absences to a cold). Usually we would go to “His Majesty’s Theatre” (when Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne, it became “Her Majesty’s Theatre”). Since we were frequent attendees, and my mother’s budget was small, we sat in the top balcony (many aspiring actors were there too). In order to see the players’ features clearly, what were then called “opera glasses” (although these plays weren’t opera, they were often “musicals”) were a boon.

So one of my first purchases, once I became a teenage radio actress actually earning a paycheck, was a pair of elegant opera glasses. Not any old opera glasses; these were black mother-of-pearl, delicately shaped and gold rimmed. They had their own silk cord so the opera glasses could rest around my neck, as well as a silk pouch to house them. They were mine for many years until a house robbery made them the illicit property of someone else. I missed them. They were a happy memory of my youth.

Not until I glimpsed the architectural marvel of the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, not until we toured these magically-conceived premises, did I re-experience the excitement of the curtain going up at His/Her Majesty’s Theatre. The dramatic sections of the Opera House,

like the winged shells of a concrete sea creature, rise from the sea, occupying all of Bennelong Point at Sydney Harbor. In 2007, the Operal House was declared a World Heritage Site.

The Sydney Opera House, which finally opened in 1973 after a lengthy gestation period beginning with an architectural competition in 1957, was designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. As a distinctive, multi-purpose, performing arts venue, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2007.  I consider it to be one of the wonders of the world.

And there, in the lobby, I found the replacement for my long-lost opera glasses. No matter that they were amber-colored, not pearl. They were delicately-shaped; they had a gold rim and cord. I would cherish them as a forever remembrance of Australia.

Although I purchase better seating when I go to the theatre today and don’t really need opera glasses, they symbolize a part of who I am. They recall a time when I was young and in love with the theatre, when life held great artistic momentum; they were an inspirational part of my route to eventually becoming a rabbi. They also symbolize the beauty, elegance, and sophistication of Sydney itself. A city to cherish and revisit, marked by engaging architecture; arched, fashionable shopping malls; quality food and merchandise. It was also full of tourists, and costs for food and shelter were staggeringly high. Many people who “live in Sydney” today actually live in the suburbs, which we couldn’t get to explore in the time we had at our disposal. We were told that the suburbs are beautiful too. And also expensive. If you visit Sydney, it will cost you, especially the hotels.

My new opera glasses were certainly a cut above the room we, my daughter and I, had reserved for our stay there. When we were choosing our hotel from Los Angeles, with the help of a reputable travel agent, we asked to keep our costs “reasonable”; he suggested that we might enjoy the vibrancy of the Chinese section of Sydney. “The hotel is modest,” he said, “but it’s an exciting part of town. Lots of great restaurants. Interesting art. Diversity.” All of that proved to be true, but he had never been there. What he didn’t know was that the “basic” hotel he booked for us stood right next to one that boasted a large sign: “Rooms by the hour.” And there were others quite similar. How basic can you get?

Actually, it proved to be great fun to walk around savoring the sights and sounds of “Chinatown.” In a sense, it was familiar territory. In Canada, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver each have a Chinatown. Many U.S. big cities have them: San Francisco, Los Angeles. And so on. Although most people of Chinese background don’t live there anymore, the tourist attractions, the food, the businesses remain. Actually, our hotel proved to be a moderately lengthy but pleasant walk to the harbor, where our activities for the day – and the Opera House – were located. It’s easy to spend an entire day at the harbor. If you have the physical energy, as many athletic visitors do, you can climb the walking path of the bridge high enough to gain an amazing view. Half-way up, there is a small museum. My daughter climbed. I watched.

Now that we had our bearings in Sydney (we gauged distance from the harbor), I checked out the location of the historical Old Synagogue and the times when we could visit. Along with the Jewish Museum, a much newer edifice, that would be my destination for the next day. Even if you don’t visit a religious establishment, a trip to Australia brings you close to God.