My Ongoing Love Affair with Opera

Valkyrie

I’m not sure when it began. Years ago, I remember hearing Nessun Dorma sung in a movie, or perhaps a TV show, and feeling a strange desperation to discover its name, to hear it again. When I somehow stumbled upon its purity once more, it was being sung by Michael Bolton on an album that was a surprising departure, My Secret Passion. Michael Bolton singing opera? I figured I’d give it a try.

It was a gentle introduction to a new world for me, and I’ve loved that album for years, though I’m a bit more savvy these days and recognize that Bolton doesn’t hold a candle to the greats. And perhaps I felt some kinship with him, for I kept opera as my own secret passion – I’d met no one personally who shared it, and couldn’t imagine pursuing the interest alone. (How pathetic would a night at the opera be, if one were attending alone?!)

I’m discovering as I get older, however, that one really must pursue what calls out to be pursued, regardless of the company, regardless of the opinions of others. It’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve decided to “go public” with my love of opera, and take a small leap alone. I began with buying a few more CDs, listening in the car or in my office. Then a concert performance of La Boheme at the local community college. The 3D movie performance of Carmen. When I left the house to see Carmen, my husband said “Look around in the theater. Maybe you can find another [lonely, pathetic] person who can be your opera-friend.” (italics mine) There were four others in the theater. All of them about three decades older than myself. But I struck up a conversation with one, and learned something new: The Metropolitan Opera in NYC broadcasts a performance live every month into IMAX theaters around the country.

Yesterday was my first of these – a production of the second in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie). Until a few months ago, I had only ventured into Italian and French opera, but a re-reading of C.S. Lewis’ autobiography, Surprised by Joy, reminded me of Wagner’s influence on him, and I did a bit of listening on YouTube, to test the waters. I was in love. Not only does Wagner dive into the realm of mythology, which is always of interest to me, but the music is simply amazing.

If nothing else, you must listen to the Ride of the Valkyries:

Click here if you’re looking for a synopsis of the four Ring Cycle operas, beginning with Das Rheingold. Wagner’s music is much more orchestral than the Italian opera I’d become more familiar with, which focuses more on the vocals.

It’s also not for the faint-of-heart. Yesterday’s performance, with its two intermissions, lasted 5 ½ hours. I had attended a one-hour lecture about the opera that began two hours before the performance, and the place began filling up before the lecture was over. The theater was nearly full for the performance. Turns out I’m not the only opera-lover! Who knew? So from the lecture to the final curtain call, I spent eight hours in that theater yesterday. And I loved every minute of it. The Met does a great job with the live broadcasts, with Placido Domingo emceeing the intermissions, giving us a peek backstage and interviewing the cast.

But it was the performance that captivated. Familiar themes – a ring of power to rule the world, the seizing of the magic sword , destiny and undying love – but sung with such regal, astonishing beauty that more than once I found myself with a cheese-wiz-covered pretzel bite suspended halfway to my mouth, while the notes hung in the air and swept me into themselves.

[Yes, I’m aware that with my pretzel bites and my jumbo-sized rootbeer in the cup holder, I have not yet attained serious opera-lover status.]

When the final notes had been sung, and Brünnhilde laid out to sleep to await the man with courage enough to wake her, the audience in my theater erupted in applause – one of those rare theater moments where the reality that the performers cannot hear you is overshadowed by pure appreciation for what you have witnessed.

So I will continue to indulge this newly-admitted passion of mine, even if it means attending performances alone, and enduring the eye-rolling of my children when they hop into the car to an aria of Puccini.

The opera fuels my imagination, it reminds me that it is possible to create art that transcends, and it inspires me to join my efforts to that river of creative art that flows through humanity, in imitation of the creative heart of God.

**

Yesterday’s performance ended the Met’s broadcast performances for the season, but they are showing encore presentations through the summer, and then new performances begin in September. If you’re new to a love of opera, I highly recommend the broadcasts!

Bonus link: Another favorite aria – Mozart’s Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute. Listen at least 45 seconds in, and you will hear her voice perform trills you thought only a flute could accomplish.

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© Copyright Tracy L. Higley