LC Van Savage
Opera for me was a great crashing and howling bore, as it was and is for a great many people. Sitting in a huge darkened theater listening to performers shrieking at one another, getting themselves into all sorts of improbable crazy, passionate and violent situations, singing words no one can understand (even when they’re sung in our own language) and doing lots of that singing while lying prone on the stage after having been speared, stabbed or poisoned, or from just run of the mill dying of broken hearts, was never my idea of how to spend a fun afternoon.
But I had to go. My beloved old grandmother, a dowager-without-hump, thought it would enrich my soul, broaden my brain and fill me with culture and poise, or something of the sort. I’m sorry to say that opera did nothing much for me except to fill me with rage, because for me, sitting through those torturous, interminable howling sessions was the total ruination of a perfectly good Saturday, far better spent sneaking off to the woods to read Forever Amber.
And my knuckles still bear the faint scars of her knuckle rapping (with whatever was handy—hairbrush, trowel, teacup, bullwhip,) for each time she overheard me whining to my friends that I had to go "see" an opera.
"I’ve told you and told you, my dear child," she’d say, reaching for the nearest appropriate rapping widget, "one does not SEE an opera. One HEARS an opera. Everyone knows that, and I insist you remember to say that properly." Rap. Whichever the correct word, I hated to see or hear opera, and even the very word today evokes suppressed knuckle memory.
Not only did dear old Grandmother force me to spend too many Saturdays at the opera, my high school thought it would be good for us to go on one or two "field trips" to see, ooops, hear an opera. (Why are those excursions called "field trips" when there’s never a field in sight?) Off our class would go, excited to be getting a day off from the constraints and boredom of larnin’, but not thrilled to be spending that time at an opera.
My favorite field trip though, was once going to an opera dress rehearsal. It was a huge, famous opera whose name of course I forget, if I ever knew or cared, and the costumes were elaborate, heavily ornate and extremely hot looking. All the characters sang their parts lustily, although the two stars, the howling lovers, were so portly their kissing scenes rather reminded me of two beach balls being hurled together and bouncing apart. Locking lips for those two was all but impossible what with both of them bellowing at the same time and all that heavy costuming between them being pushed out by their substantial paunchisity. From where I sat, it appeared they were trying to kiss by stretching their lips toward one another’s face over the bulk. And in one scene the male hero, singing from his knees, actually crawled over to the lip of the stage and viciously shook his fist at the conductor. And oh, it was such enormous fun to watch the many interruptions by that enraged, baton-banging conductor. All that fury and tempest really fascinated my classmates and me, and we were having a jolly time, laying bets with each other as to how long it would be, to the second, that the white-haired, perfectionist, tantrum-throwing conductor would again stop the performance. He even looked up in the balcony from time to time with a startled, angry look when he heard us applaud, not realizing that we, the applauders, had just won another quarter.
But age, time and technology changes and softens all things, and thus it was for opera and me. A couple of years ago my good husband Steve convinced me to go hear an opera with him in a nearby city. I whined and dragged my heels, complained, and threatened to make the entire evening miserable for him, but he’s already endured that many times and prevailed anyway. Thus I entered the opera house, flounced into my chair, defiantly disobeying the rule about not eating inside the theater by opening up a loudly-wrapped "health" bar, and making sure Steve realized I was sulking. He knew, and frankly my dear, he just didn’t give a damn.
The opera began and in thirty seconds, I was mesmerized, delighted, thrilled. I was loving it, understanding everything, appreciating the majesty, the work involved, the story-line and professionalism. I laughed and clapped and wept and was bereaved when the final curtain bounced down and the applause and bravo yelling (mine especially) stopped.
Why this turnabout? Supertitles. Above this opera was a narrow unobtrusive screen with the translation of all those songs in soft, easily read words. No more trying to read the story in the dark. This thing, this wonderful invention, this screen, has turned me on to opera in a big way. Purists may scoff. Let ‘em. Maybe we should all know all the stories opera tells, but most of us don’t. I really don’t know how those screen guys make the words match so well with the singers’ singing, but they do and because of that wonderful supertitle screen high above the stage I, and I know millions of others, even young people, are coming to hear opera in droves. I now love, attend and applaud opera, but my extra plaudits go to those supertitle guys. So thanks!
LC’s book of poetry "LC’s Take – Poetry –I" is at local bookstores. Hear her on "Arts Talk with Ann and LC" WMPG-FM, 90.9 and 104.1 Wed’s – 11-11:30 AM, or on the Internet, www.wmpg.org. Email her at email@example.com