Sunday, May 3, 2015

If You'd Just Listen!

Confessions of an Opera Junkie

     Nobody’s life is perfect. In my case, I’ve spent my entire life left-handed, and my entire adult life shorter than the average twelve-year-old. Well, these days, probably more like the average ten-year-old. But I learned to cope. More recently, I’ve had to work out being old, and since I’ve never been old before, I’m mainly playing it by ear. It’s definitely one of those “hands-on” experiences.
     But there is one area where I feel isolated and am really not handling well at all. I am a confessed opera-lover. Do you realize how rare we are? Probably not, unless you happen to love opera and live in a small community where being an opera-lover makes you someone your friends aren’t sure what to do with.
     I’ve loved opera since I was fourteen years old and turned on a Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon broadcast. I seldom missed one after that. I went to a high school of over a thousand people, and I was very active in the music department. Do you know how many people I met in my school who loved opera? One. Well, some people sort of liked it, but …
     Now, I wasn’t exclusive to the point of not listening to the pop music of my teenage years. But I enjoyed and appreciated all classical music (that in itself made me odd). I took piano lessons and studied ballet, and I was involved in the high school musicals and loved singing in chorus and our select group, Choral Ensemble. I liked band music. 
     But I loved, I mean loved, opera. And until I went to music school – I like to think of it as my time in Nirvana – I generally listened to operatic recordings and those Met broadcasts all by myself. It was okay. I had the music, and the singers. Those amazing voices, people who without amplification could sing over a full orchestra. How in the world did they do that? And they made it sound so easy!
     I’m not sure how, but I was accepted as a voice major at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and started school when I was seventeen. I was convinced I had died and gone to heaven. All these people were just like me. They loved opera. We shared recordings. We sang, talked, ate, drank, slept opera. When summer rolled around, I spent most of my time at Cincinnati’s Zoological Gardens. That’s because the opera pavilion was located there. Oh, yes, I occasionally looked at the animals. The ones near the pavilion.
     I heard some great singers. I heard some not-so-great singers. I heard great singers on a bad night. I heard great operas. In those days I thought they were pretty much all great – the Zoo Opera mainly stuck to standard repertoire, and it’s hard to go wrong with Puccini and Verdi and Carmen. I loved every minute of it.
     Eventually, I left Cincinnati after marrying and having three children, and found myself in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Not much going on locally in the early nineteen-seventies, but we found our way to New York and Philadelphia. You know what’s in New York, right? The Metropolitan Opera. And for a long time, the New York City Opera as well. Nirvana was in the East. I was going to be okay.
     Those trips to the Met became fewer and fewer over the years, and eventually wound down. Sadly, the NYCO got into big trouble. But wait! The Saturday afternoon Met broadcasts would be there forever. And then, like manna from Nirvana (yes, I know what I just did) – the Saturday HD live streaming telecasts from the Met stage, sent out worldwide. First to a neighboring town, and eventually to a theater in my local Cinemark!
     Well, of course I always had recordings. First LPs, then CDs, then DVDs. But here’s the thing about opera. It’s better if it’s shared. I tried sharing it with my kids. They heard operatic recordings blaring at all hours of the day, and on them it had the wrong effect. We took them to New York to see Die Fledermaus at the NYCO. The parents thought it was great. The kids were bored out of their skulls and referred to it ever afterward as “Deflatable Mouse.” I obviously handled this all wrong. I should have forbidden them to ever listen to opera.
     Since I was now teaching voice privately, I sometimes assigned arias to those students who had voices that were compatible with opera. Some of these students liked singing arias. Some would even listen with appreciation when I played them recordings. When the Internet appeared on the scene and YouTube along with it, I began to email students videos of arias. Usually an aria they were working on.
     Then I discovered Facebook and set up a Facebook page. Now I could from time to time post these videos to share with my Facebook friends. Once in a while somebody would even listen to one of them.
     I’m starved for the company of fellow opera-lovers. I see them at Theater #10 in the Cinemark from time to time, sneaking in guiltily to partake of our addiction. Sometimes I find a friend who will go with me. But I want to sit and dissect what I just heard and saw, the way I did when I was a music student in those far-off days of yore.
     After thirty-five years of teaching, I have a couple of students who are living the dream. When I send them PMs on FB they are kind and respond. They’re sweet. I try not to bore them with my opinions (I pretend they are “thoughts,” but they are definitely opinions. What are these stage directors thinking these days?) It’s just not enough. Maybe I need to start a local group that meets after the Saturday HD telecasts.
     In the meantime, I’ve checked out the HD offerings for next season. Some great operas! And I’m determined to make a pilgrimage to the Met next season. That might help.
     You see, there’s this amazing new tenor …

Tenor Bryan Hymel as Énée in Les Troyens