My first afternoon of exploration in Saint Petersburg was fantastic. I fell in love with the city to the point that I couldn't stop admiring new perspectives, and I underrated hours of fatigue just in order to take in as much as possible. Only the evening was going to put an end to my roaming that had encompassed a large part of the historical centre, but on my way back I happened to walk past the Mariinsky Theatre and a surprise was yet forthcoming.
I had set my heart at rest about the possibility of watching an opera performance in Russia, partly because August is the closing month for most theatres and partly because of the impossibility to arrange my being anywhere on a specific date. Verdi's Aida was however on the billboard two days later and there was a dirty cheap ticket available. I didn't hesitate one moment and bought one.
I had a ticket for Verdi’s Aida, but I had to solve a practical problem.
Walking in the long summer dusk of the northern latitudes I once more admired the canals that reflected patches of blue sky and the street lights that were coming on. Lines of beautiful buildings provided a grand backdrop for this moment of elation. However, I soon realised the snag: I was going to the opera and there I was, backpacking in Russia with only casual clothes and a pair of hiking shoes. What could I possibly wear on the night of the performance?
The next day my mind kept going back to the issue every now and then: I could hire a suit, buy a second-hand jacket, or a shirt... I went into the reputedly trendy Gostiny Dvor market and had a look at old-fashioned items on sale to quickly conclude I would never want to buy anything in Russia. At the hostel I did an online search and found out with relief that the Mariinsky dress code was not that strict. My ticket being for the second balcony, I could pass fairly unnoticed if I wore something barely acceptable. I decided I would put on dark trousers, a black t-shirt, a black thermal top and of course my only, luckily black too, pair of hiking shoes.
The night of the performance I didn't feel too out of place. The audience was rather heterogeneous, and next to me was sitting a young girl who couldn't care less about Aida and kept flashing her smartphone display into my eyes until her parents realised she was a nuisance and moved her away. The opera was just amazing; not only the music and the singing, but also the staging that with Aida in particular never fails to produce an effect of the most impressive grandeur.
When the curtain rose at the second act the audience broke out in a spontaneous applause at seeing the Egyptian army standing to welcome the victorious general. My black attire on the contrary didn't attract anybody's attention, and my goal could be considered as achieved.