Friday, January 15, 2010

Chi son? Chi son?

My name is Lucia, but no one calls me Mimi. I can't answer the question of how I came to be interested in -- obsessed with -- opera except very vaguely, or through reciting a string of small anecdotes so long as to create tedium for the listener. I only know that I retain surprisingly sharp memories of the tidbits of opera which I was fortuitously exposed to in my youth, via public television broadasts or creaky VHS tapes. I had an upbringing steeped in classical music, with opera being a strange exception, represented only by a handful of LPs. Maybe it was partly the frisson of the forbidden which roused my curiosity. Maybe it was simply the beauty of the music which accompanied the public radio scheduling alerts during the French program I listened to on Saturday mornings though high school.

The first year at university is legendary as a period of personal exploration. While friends got haircuts and hair dye, I checked out stacks of opera CDs from the library, poring over the libretti and listening over and over to recordings the quality of which I recognized only in retrospect. La Boheme was my first love, Tosca my second. Looking back at my first live opera, I can only express my gratitude--to La Scala, to the universe--for being introduced through such an exquisite experience. There is also a hideous qualm of guilt, however. I murmur apologies to those who were ready to offer sophisticated appreciation to Juan Diego Florez and Joyce DiDonato in La Cenerentola, but found the very last row of seats sold out, because of a teenager choked and irritable with nervous excitement. I remember it, of course, as a perfect May twilight filled with stars, the theatre as a fairytale land as exotic as the one on stage. I remember "Una volta c'era un re" filling a silent room with the promise of love.

Is that otherworldly, intensely human beauty unique to opera? Perhaps not; but its potential, I think, is always there. I appreciate and enjoy the discussions in the interval about whether or not this or that aspect of a production worked, about the voice production of this or that singer, about the balance between the singers and the orchestra. I aspire to continuously becoming a more informed and discriminating audience member. But I also long for those rare moments when I am reduced to tears or ecstasy, silent and trembling as the curtain falls, in the moments before the surge of applause.


  1. So, you've listened to music all your life, which gave you a great foundation for soaking in opera. I too enjoy learning about opera--there's so much to learn. But I want operagoing to be more than an intellectual experience. I want to be moved, as do you. It doesn't always happen but it's priceless when it does.

  2. @Gale "Soaking in" is an apt phrase! I agree with you on both points, and I do think they can be connected, with background knowledge enabling us to appreciate and be moved by more of the work. I'm against it as absolute prerequisite, though; I recently told my apprehensive mother that having a pulse qualified her to enjoy and appreciate Die Walkuere.


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