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As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Confessioni di un Rookie Opera

Rule #28 – An author must continue to learn.

     You regular readers may have guessed that I really like music. It is a language all on its own. I enjoy almost all forms of music, even some rap. Once you get through the killer bass and blowing out of your woofers, sometimes there is some nice poetry buried in the noise. Most heavy metal is psychotic screaming to me, but there are a few tunes that get my toes tapping and feet moving. Let’s not forget the Big Bands and crooners.

     Yes, I even like classical music and some opera music.

     When I was teaching – seems like a thousand years ago – I used opera music as a deterrent. I also managed to honk off a few chorus teachers in the process. My thoughts were that the kids I taught liked rap and heavy metal. Classical music was painful to their ears. Opera, with high soprano arias, was even more so. To top it off, my singing along with opera, with high soprano arias, was the ultimate in torture. Detention equaled torture in their minds. Is there a better way to spend detention in my class, than to listen to Pavarotti’s favorite arias, with me singing along at the top of my lungs? I made sure the kids in all classes – all 12 classes of them at the end of my career – knew what they were in for if they crossed the line. There was always one or two who managed to earn a detention with me early in the year. The serenade was… well, I’m no music critic. But I must say that word got out and detentions with me in my classroom were few and far between. Most “frequent flyers” chose to ditch my detentions and rack up a few administrative detentions. The knuckleheads forgot that the next step was suspension. Dug their own hole, they did.

     Anyway, opera worked. A few even enjoyed the music. Now I’m not sure if they were brown-nosing, but some kids actually asked about the operas involved. They remembered some of the music from TV commercials.

     Up until recently, my only exposure to opera was on public television. Never saw one in person until a few summers ago. My cousin, who is an opera aficionado, suggested we see an updated comedy at Wolf Trap Barn. Yes, it was sung in Italian, and yes, the translation was running on a board above the scene. And yes, the music was magnificent. Yes, the story was funny. Yes, I could understand it. No one died, but it was still an opera.

     This is one event that Hub was not into joining me. He couldn’t see why it should take someone five minutes to sing about how they have to use the bathroom. Guess it just didn’t make sense to him. We agreed to disagree on this subject.

     The next operas my cousin and I saw were one act operas. Both had the leads died in the shows. One, however, had the main character sing almost the entire act. My throat hurt just imagining how she got through this. Singing at this level has to be cardio exercises to the max. I was at once amazed, awe-struck, and jealous of the singers. They had a talent I could only envy.

     Recently, my cousin invited me to join her and a few of my late aunt’s friends for an afternoon at the Met. Hmmmmm… says I. The Metropolitan Opera is in New York. Are we talking field trip? No, but the Met does have a “Live in HD” monthly event shown at certain movie theaters world wide. We went to a neighboring town, to the movie theater, and watched a live performance of “Francesca di Rimini”. It turned out to be a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

     Now the plot of the opera is pretty standard. Girl meets boy. Boy snows girl. Girl marries his brother. Girl and boy are still in love and start messing around. Youngest brother has the hots for girl, too. Youngest brother snitches to Hubby. Hubby gets honked off and kills girl and boy. Sounds like “My Three Sons” meets “Pretty Little Liars”. In between, there is some war stuff, and ladies gossiping.

     The production, though, was not what I expected. “Live at the Met” had little down time between acts. Act 1 ended and the cameras went back stage. The head of scene construction was interviewed. You watched the crew construct a massive tower and put all the components together in 15 minutes. It was quite the choreography. The mistress of ceremonies also interviewed the principal female lead. She ducked out of character for a few minutes to discuss her love of this piece, in particular. The male principal leads were interviewed between acts 2 and 3 and 3 and 4. The costume designer was interviewed. The conductor was, too. So much to learn about staging this opera in only 4 hours!

Photo from "Francesca di Rimini" Met Review by Lev Sviridov, Policymic.com

     Turns out, this opera hasn’t been staged at the Met for almost 30 years. All the scenery and costumes were stored in a freight container at a storage facility in Newark, New Jersey. When they opened the container after all those years… well, let’s just say that there was some restoring to be done to scenery and costumes alike. It was fascinating to hear the crew chiefs talk about what it took to bring these items back to usable glory. The costumes had so much intricate embroidery on heavy velvets. They were gorgeous and I’m sure fixing them up was labor intensive. I was just so glad I didn’t have to wear one of those costumes under heavy lighting.

     The “HD” set up allowed us to get close to the faces of the singer/actors. We were personal with the performers; where on the larger stage, we would not have seen such emotion up close.

     Toward the end was the “mandatory” commercial about next season’s operas. My cousin and I made plans to see a few of them. There was one in particular she wanted to attend. Turns out she knows one of the supporting singers. She wants to see him in action again.

     I can file this adventure under “Who knew?” Who knew I’d add opera to my list of favorite things to do? There is so much to look forward to…so much to learn.

     Forward! Must have more opera… must have more opera…

     Self, make it so.


  1. Marge -

    Come back to the Barn this summer!

    Kim Witman (of Wolf Trap Opera:))

    1. Will do. Am checking out the upcoming summer events right now! Thanks!