Queuing for the Queen – Waiting for Netrebko at La Scala

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Queen Elisabeth

The difference in queuing between London and Milan: In one place, don’t forget your incontinence briefs

Standing in line under the direction of royal guards is child’s play. Loitering around an opera for two days is a risk.

The goal of those waiting: the coffin of the queen.

Danny Lawson/TBEN

The freezing cold after a night in line at the opera is only worth the footnote in the end. Later you only remember the redeeming, morning coffee in the warm bar. Before you got back in the queue.

That’s how it will be for people in London these days. In 50 years they will still proudly tell, even cheer, how they stood in line for around 14 hours back in September 2022. And they actually have to say it, as they are not allowed to use their mobile phones at their destination, Westminster Hall.

Waiting in line for whatever it is has a purpose after all. To reach it, one would also jump into the sea from a high rock. In the end, you get something: a moon swatch, a new iPhone, or an intimate moment in front of Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin.

As an opera fan, the case is simple: you get an opera ticket – and a rather cheap one at that.

“Whoever leaves his place loses it”

I learned to stand in line in Vienna. When I was 16, on a cold February afternoon, I stood in the notorious queue under the opera arcades for the first time. At that time, the first 250 of 570 standing room visitors were allowed to wait inside the house. But that was the only thing you were allowed to do. A sign announced the simple rule: “Whoever leaves his seat loses it.”

Of course you hated this rule, only realizing later that it is basically the only one that ensures fairness. And even more important: for selection. Going to the toilet was okay, but standing around out of line was not possible. If the anticipated rush was large, counting cards were issued at six o’clock. With that in hand you could go home and have to be back three hours before the opera began. So you spent the night in front of the opera house so that you could stand in line again rested.

Those who sat on the floor in line hours before the performance heard opera stories that were better than all opera novels put together. You often got to know your neighbors quickly and well. In Milan, where I stood in line 100 times since 1991, it was similar. Ira, an acquaintance, met her husband here. That might have something to do with the waiting system, because it was complicated – it was called «Gianni».

Gianni was and is the standing room list leader and ensures something impossible: for Italian order. to the bar? No problem. To the hotel or home? Not impossible. Not standing in line at all and being on the list at the end – Gianni can make it happen.

Well-ordered, it goes for 14 hours in the direction of the queen.

Well-ordered, it goes for 14 hours in the direction of the queen.

Tolga Akmen/EPA

Scala is very happy about his work, but according to the house regulations it is illegal. The uninitiated, especially non-Italians, get angry about the system from time to time. It must be dreadful for the English. Queuing, as is evident these days, is an act of precise composure in the kingdom, a stroke of fate.

The English are so fascinated with waiting these days that they start thinking about the perfect snake.

The queue for the Queen turned out to be a hydra

The queue in front of the Queen’s coffin meandered up to eight kilometers through the city. The waiting time until the great luck lasted about 14 hours. When the authorities wanted to fight the snake, so to speak, closed it, it showed itself as the daughter of Hydra: a queue for the queue was formed.

Around 750,000 people are supposed to see the coffin at the end, 30,000 to 40,000 are in line at the same time. But the English, who stoically wait to get a glimpse of the Queen’s coffin, didn’t invent queuing after all. The waiting there in front of the coffin is well organized, so it’s child’s play: 1000 helpers are ready, there are 500 toilets along the line. Disabled people are allowed to use an extra row.

In the end, queuing for the Milan or Vienna opera ticket became a fight against tiredness and for the best place in the opera circuit.

The snake under the arcades of La Scala in Milan.

The snake under the arcades of La Scala in Milan.

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Everyone is equal at the Queen’s coffin. That must be a very nice unifying feeling while waiting. However, I’m afraid that people will get annoyed with time because they are not used to waiting. After hours of nothing you are irritable and the cell phone battery is empty.

I was glad I had gained a few years of experience on December 7, 1992, when “Don Carlo” with Luciano Pavarotti was on the program in Milan. I spent two sleepless nights in front of the opera – and one afterwards on the train via Lausanne to Zurich.

One of the very first to stand in line in 1992 was Caterina. While queuing before December 7th, 2019 for “Tosca” with Anna Netrebko, the now 80-year-old “Regina del Loggione”, queen of the standing room, told me that she wears extra large incontinence pants for the night. “They give you super warmth – and yes, the bar in Via Santa Margherita won’t open until 5:30 a.m..”

But as I said: over the years you only remember the coffee there.

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