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On the flight back from California I sat next to a grey and corpulent man, the same man whose distracted bulk had slowly preceded me down the aisle to our seats, with me containing a quiet sigh at our assignments. I squeezed in next to him; he ignored my apologetic smile. I made myself small against the window and retrieved my book. I read.

After we took off, my seatmate pulled from his bag–instead of the usual laptop or iProduct–an ungainly sheaf of scribbled-upon and heavily marked musical notations. I slid my gaze and read these too, or tried; the lyrics beneath the bars were in Italian, and although I could cohere in my mind the melody, the meaning was opaque. The man retrieved a pencil, added a few notes, and then proceeded to sing, beneath his breath, from the beginning of the manuscript.

I feigned absorption in my book, but spent the next two hours listening, entranced, to the newness of a whispered opera.