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THE FAT LADY AIN'T SINGING

1 March 2006

I have a deep, dark secret.

I don't really like opera.

I don't hate all of opera.  I just hate sitting through a complete opera.  There are some arias I love.  There are some choruses I love.  There are some duets or trios I love, but put 'em all together into one 2-4 hour long opera and I'd rather have root canal.

Now when you travel in the sorts of circles I've been traveling in for most of my adult life, that's a difficult position to be in.   It seems that everyone in my social circle either sings opera or wouldn't miss an opera performance if their life depended on it.

And they all assume that I do too.  In fact, this week I've had not one but two calls from a friend from San Francisco who just saw the Sacramento Opera's production of Turandot, loved it, and wanted to be sure that I didn't miss it because he knew I would fall all over myself when I saw it.

If I could just pass through the back of the hall for Nessun Dorma, I might go, but I suspect that they'd actually expect me to sit through the whole opera.

The problem with opera is it's just too damn much work.  There is an opera I like:  Tosca.  Why do I like Tosca?  Because a friend was singing the title role several years ago and I really wanted to ENJOY it, not just endure it, so I got the record, got the book, and I studied the opera for weeks before I went to see it.  By the time I saw it, I knew all the music, I knew the story, and I really could enjoy it.  And did enjoy it. 

But jeez...that just is too much work.  

It's funny, but in my youth, I saw the movie, Interrupted Melody, about Australian soprano Marjorie Lawrence, who was stricken with polio.   I was in my polio panic period at that time so I guess that was part of why the movie really hit me.  I decided I was going to become an opera singer.  It's amazing my mother didn't kill me, when I remember the weeks I spent standing in the pantry washing the dishes at night and shrieking high notes.

In the years when I was working with The Lamplighters, everybody I knew sang opera (or at least sang choruses in public, which made them very suspect, you know).  They all talked opera the way I can talk Gilbert & Sullivan, or Judy Garland, or Steve Schalchlin.  I struggled to keep up because I wanted to be one of the guys, but really I knew I didn't enjoy/understand opera.

(Aside:  I feel different about operetta, opera light, which I do enjoy.)

My friend Gilbert was determined he was going to make a Ring Cycle lover of me.  There are degrees of "don't like opera" in my lexicon and Wagner has to be at the very top (second only to more modern, atonal works).  Lord, I remember trying to watch Siegfried on TV one time and after the guy stood there singing about removing a sword from a rock for about an hour, I gave up and changed the channel.  Fifteen minutes later, when the next commercial break came on, I switched back to Siegfried and goddammit if he wasn't still standing there singing about the damn sword in the damn stone.

But Gilbert said he could make a Wagner lover out of anyone.  Unfortunately, he lost interest in the project, so Wagner still remains high on my list of "don't like."  Again, there are parts that I enjoy.  The "Spinning song" from The Flying Dutchman is cool.   Most of the overtures are glorious.  But do I really have to watch the rest of the opera?

I kinda like La Traviata, or some parts of it.  But not all of it.  (Though Franco Zepherelli's sensual movie almost made a believer out of me.)  But please don't ask me to watch Madama Butterfly, not on un bel di or any other di for that matter.

My friend Barb is a huge fan of Jose Carreras and we actually traveled with her to New York to see him in concert at Carnegie Hall (on that fateful weekend when David died).  Some of the concert I enjoyed, other parts I tried to stay awake through, while sitting surrounded by the faithful who hung on his every note.  The high cost of concert or opera tickets are wasted on me.

I just basically don't. like. opera.

For two years, Walt actually bought tickets for a mini series at the SF Opera and I attended.  It was agony.  The seats in the cheap section (and we were in the middle section, not the cheap section) have zero leg room and before the end of the overture, my legs, which don't like to have the knees bent for very long, were screaming from being cramped.  In three-act operas, I was ready to hurl myself over the nearest parapet with the heroine before the final notes were sung.

So I suggested that we not continue buying the tickets.  Walt continues to go.  He absolutely loves it.  And he stands so that he can afford to see each opera.  He even stood through the 4 hour Gotterdammerung twice, he enjoyed it so much.  SRO people are nuts.  Truly masochistic music lovers.  You have to be. 

I agreed to try going standing room.   Once.  And only because it was Tosca, the only opera I actually know and like. 

Well, we were on the first floor and they were standing 3 deep, which means that unless you got there early enough to get the railing (we didn't), you were standing behind one or two rows of people, with nothing to lean against.  For a three act opera.  It may have been a great production, but all I can remember is how tired and sore I was.

I suspect my editor is thrilled that I don't like opera.  Apparently he battled regularly with the woman who was the critic before she retired and I took over.  She loved the opera and reviewed both the Sacramento and the San Francisco operas, though there is increasing demand for newspaper space for more local productions.  With me, he has no worry that I'm going to beg him to let me review an opera.


PHOTO OF THE DAY

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Tom is on the roof.

 

 
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