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At opera, sounds that go ZZZ in the night


On the way to the opera, we heard a man belch. It was loud and clear and uninhibited, a belch with gusto, delivered on Mount Royal Avenue, about 100 paces from the front door of the Lyric Opera House. It was a startling sound, and it made us laugh. And our laughter made the man say, without apology: "Better now than during the opera, right?"

Ah ... right. Good point.

I have heard a lot of sounds in opera houses and concert halls. So far, a four-star belch is not one of them.

I actually have a strange, twisted obsession with people who make noise in theaters. I listen for them. When 999 paying customers are on their best behavior, my ears detect the one who's talking or whispering loudly. I am a connoisseur of distractions. A persistent cough in the balcony, the crinkle of cellophane candy wrappers, the rattle of a purse chain, the opera buff who hums along with a familiar aria - none of it gets by me. I actually enjoy relaying and hearing stories of distractions.

Keep this in mind as I tell you about the snorer - a male snorer, I believe - at Friday night's performance of Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" at the Lyric. Early on, as the formidable bass Paul Plishka was a'blowing his beautiful pipes, there arose from somewhere behind me - deep in the orchestra seating, rows W or Y - the strong, even, gurgling scales of a solo snorer. I emphasize solo because, for the longest time, the see-saw phrasing of the snores continued unabated, as if ol' Sleepy had come to the Lyric alone, no companion ready with a sharp, snore-stopping elbow to the side. (For all I know, it might have been the same guy who'd belched big on Mount Royal Avenue.) And obviously no one seated near the snorer was willing, at first, to intervene.

But, after about 10 minutes, someone did. The snoring stopped. And there I was, with nothing to distract me for the rest of the evening. I actually had to listen to the opera.

Bravo for 'Dutchman'

But, seriously now ... Not even the snoring could diminish enjoyment of this "Dutchman." The run ended here yesterday and, before we move on to other business, it must be said: That was one of the most intriguing, breathtaking productions I've ever seen at the Lyric. Spare, surreal, yet thoroughly enthralling set and stage direction, an out-of-this-world performance by James Morris in the title role, an extravagantly talented array supporting him - Plishka, Chris Merritt, Susan Marie Pierson - and a particularly strong chorus added up to something unique and unforgettable. We were lucky to have seen it.

Drugstore demise

Another old, reliable neighborhood drugstore goes dark today. This time it's Block's Pharmacy, at Baltimore Street and Linwood Avenue, since 1903. Sam Lichter, its fourth owner - and the third one named Sam (the others were Block and Markin) - will transfer his 2,000 customer files and two employees to a Rite Aid on Highland Avenue, and the three of them will work there.

A person could get a lemon phosphate at Block's - you still could, as of last week, Lichter says - and a lot of older East Baltimoreans have fond memories of stopping by for ice cream )) after a visit to Patterson Park. That was long before the age of managed health care. Throughout the nation, small, independently owned pharmacies continue to be crushed by the insurance industry/drugstore chain combine that virtually dictates where customers get their prescription medicines and how much they pay for them.

Sam Lichter lost too many customers in recent years; Rite Aid made him an offer. So he has sold his last batch of coddies and filled his final prescriptions. His wife, Sandy, who worked in the pharmacy, treated herself to one last chocolate soda from the fountain the other day. Some longtime customers stopped at Block's Saturday just for a good cry.

Benevolent motorists

Here's something you didn't see on the 11 o'clock news: Man saves turtle, woman saves ducks!

In the fog of Thursday morning, a young woman got out of her truck and stopped four lanes of crawl-along Beltway traffic near the Interstate 83 interchange to let a mother duck and five ducklings cross the highway.

Friday morning, along the shoulder of Interstate 70 about a mile west of the Beltway, a man parked his car, got out, grabbed a migrating turtle and deposited it safely to the grassy roadside. Remarkably, both kind gestures, reported by loyal TJI readers, provoked no perceptible anger among other motorists. As one reader noted: "There were no casualties."

Chips: The winner is ...

Employees of Polk Audio, Baltimore-based maker of loudspeaker systems, provide proof of that ancient expression: Even junk food junkies have standards. Electronics engineer Tony Prachniak, one of Polk's snack devotees, reports the results of a recent survey to determine the most delectable of all potato chips. (If you're gonna eat them, you might as well eat the best.) Eleven Polk employees took part. Chips with special flavorings (crab, sour cream, etc.) were not included in the taste test. The results:

1. Cape Cod Golden Russet.

2. Cape Cod Dark Russet.

3. Utz Kettle Classic.

4. Cape Cod Regular.

5. Utz Home Style.

6. Martins Regular.

7. Utz Regular.

8. Grandma Utz.

Watch this space for results of the Buffalo wings tasting.

This Just In appears three times a week. Dan Rodricks can be contacted at 410-332-6166 or by mail at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or by electronic mail at

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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