For many years, I’ve listen to the Saturday Metropolitan Opera International Radio Broadcast. Today it’s La Boheme by Giacomo Puccini. (Check the terrific web site http://operainfo.org that includes material for teachers.) The following is an essay I wrote in 1986(a brief excerpt was published in Opera News).
My love affair with opera started with a bribe–50 cents to be exact. That’s what my mother would give me and my three close-in-age brothers to entice us to ride in the car for three hours on a Saturday afternoon and listen to the radio broadcast of the live performance from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
This arrangement resulted from my father’s insistence that he listen to the broadcasts at home in peace and quiet, and my mother’s desire to keep him and us (very rambunctious kids) happy and hear the broadcasts herself. So, a half hour before the broadcast began my mother herded us into the car, drove to our regular gas station with the huge neon sign of the flying red horse, and gave each of us 50 cents–a lot of money when I was a kid. She got gas: we got what is now called junk food. I always got a bottle of cherry soda. (I loved the bright red color.) The rest of my purchase I negotiated with my brothers–bites, sips, and licks if you get that and I get this. Then, to get the best radio reception, my mother drove to a road that meandered along the top of the high hills that surrounded our small community situated in a river valley.
We crunched and munched and gurgled while Mom drove and described the action and characters on a stage 500 miles away. We “saw” Floria in Tosca jump off the fortress parapet to her death and waited for her final lyrics (with Mom translating the Italian) to the villain: “We will meet before God, Scarpia!” We blew pretend trumpets during the “Triumphal March” (with Mom enumerating the animals and characters in the parade) in Aida as the Egyptians celebrated their victory over the Ethopians. We recoiled from the witch(vividly depicted by Mom) when we heard Hansel and Gretel. The shouts of “bravo. . . brava” and the cheers and clapping from the audience in New York City thrilled us and we frequently exuberantly joined in.
Recently I was listening to a Saturday opera radio broadcast while my three sons and husband were watching a televised football game. All afternoon cheers reverberated in our house; theirs and the football crowd from the basement and mine and the opera audience from the second floor. They yelled for nimble runners zigzagging their way for long yardage. For an adroit quarterback throwing precision passes to sticky-fingered, fleet-footed receivers. And for mistakes–“Yeah, a fumble . . . we got it!” And triumphs–“Touchdown!” The opera audience and I cheered for skillful singers–sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Perfect control, pure and even tones, amazingly high and low notes, emotional expressiveness. The shape of the music, gorgeous music that took my breath away. The varieties and intricacies of rhythm. “Oh, yes!” I shouted when the soloists finished singing a lovely melody with beautiful harmonies; the parts moving smoothly and intricately like the parts in a fine watch.
Suddenly in the midst of our back-and-forth cheering, I wondering: Opera and football and we’re all cheering?
But then again, why not–a high note, a completed pass; a duet, a first down; an aria, a touchdown–we’re all celebrating the same thing: a wonderful performance!