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Where I reminisce about my grand-dad while thinking about the opera

by John on June 21st, 2011

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my grandfather lately. Maybe it’s because it was recently father’s day. Maybe it’s because I really think he’d get a kick out of holding my children. Maybe it’s because of recent conversations where we cherish each & every old picture from our grandparents . . . yet, our own grandchildren are going to see our lives chronicled in painstaking detail thanks to blogging, and Facebook, and the Twitter, and whatever other social media venues we chose to engage.

So, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about my grandfather when I read about the Suniverse field trip to Bizet’s Carmen, and I start thinking about my grandfather even more. See, when I was in high school, I was a music nerd. There were Dungeons & Dragons nerds. And comic book nerds. And book-book nerds. And Young Life religious nerds. And art nerds. They all got laid way more than I did. My want for music of any type never helped me with the ladies, but that never deterred me.

By the time I got to middle school, it was obvious that my love of music wasn’t some passing fad. My grandfather pounced on this. He had season tickets to The Metropolitan Opera House1 that he was considering giving up because he had nobody to go with, except, now he had a regular partner.

The first opera we went to was Tosca. Like a middle schooler, I did absolutely no research into things. What got me, though, was that the opera house was packed. There were scalpers selling tickets. I saw one ticket exchange hands for $500. I was in shock. I knew there were people who liked opera, but I didn’t think it was quite that popular.

Domingo as Cavaradossi

Then, the opera started and the part of Cavaradossi was played by this nobody with the name of Placido Domingo2. I was absolutely hooked.

We went to an opera about once a month (maybe it was more, maybe less . . . I really don’t know. As I started playing in more prestigious orchestras, I started knowing some of the pit musicians. For example, one of the regular bassists was the conductor of the New Jersey All State Orchestra my junior year. When I went to talk to him during an intermission of a Russian production of Macbeth (easily the strangest opera I’ve seen in The Met), he took me on a tour backstage. The next opera we saw, Fidelio, I got to meet Marilyn Horne.

Easily my favorite opera moment, though, just so happens to involve Placido Domingo, again. It was just before Christmas, and we were seeing the The Barber of Seville. The program listed the part of Figaro as to be announced. When Figaro was first introduced to the crowd, “hey, it’s Placido Domingo.” Seriously, the crowd cheered for minutes straight – you couldn’t hear a thing.

The next scene, when Figaro entered, though, he was played by Luciano Pavarotti. The rest of the opera, they just traded parts. It was a gimmick, but a gimmick that I absolutely loved.

When I went off to college, my grandfather ended his season ticket membership. The last conversation I had with him about the opera was the summer before my sophomore year. He knew that they were going to put the silly little translation boxes in front of each seat, in the hopes that, having the opera “in English” would help attendance (for a show with a Domingo, every seat was sold – for most performances, though, they were lucky to have 2/3 capacity for a Saturday matinee). His argument was, if you’re going to properly appreciate a work of art, you owe it to yourself to do a little bit of research. If you know the story of an opera, you don’t need the translation – it’s all right there, acted out. The fact that you might not understand the words actually can help you understand the meaning . . . you might not get a joke, but you’ll get every emotion. If you’re following a TelePrompTer, well, you stop paying attention to the theater.

My grandfather knew what he was talking about.


1 Having grown up near New York City, “The Met,” is a common phrase. I always assume “The Metropolitan Opera House,” when the person who mentions it always means “The Metropolitan Museum of Art.”

2 The baseball fan in me always wants to write “Polanco” after writing “Placido.” This is stuff you need to know.

From → Family, Music, Opera

6 Comments
  1. I saw a version of Der Ring (which I’m probably misnaming and showing my ignorance) with telprompters translating from German to English and it was so distracting I left. Mind you, I’d gotten in for free but I couldn’t take it. I SPEAK German so I didn’t need it but I couldn’t. stop. watching. it. Complete distraction. Ruination.

  2. Wow – what an amazing insight from your grandfather. Really, his opinion could be applied to a lot of life.
    When things are spoon fed to us, we don’t appreciate them as much!

    I’ve seen only one opera – A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I knew the story.

    It was gorgeous.

  3. The Met is on my bucket list/life list.
    The opera… oh. Swoon.

    One of my great regrets?

    That I drove through Milan on a tour bus when I was 16.

    Through. They didn’t even let us see La Scala.

  4. Lucky, lucky man. I love opera, and what a great experience you and your grandfather were able to share! I have to confess, though, that if Tosca was the first opera I saw, I probably wouldn’t have been too much into it. Who knows though, with Placido Domingo?

    It’s no Met, but I would regularly go to the Fulton when I lived in Harrisburg.

  5. Oh, the tears you just caused.

    My grandmother and I would go to the matinee/opera: discount tix is why.

    And she taught me the “trick” of reading the opera’s story first, then I’d know what was going on at the show.

    I was in grade school, can you imagine?

    And I never knew anything else but to ‘FEEL” the opera.

    Oh, you just made me remember my grandmother.

    What a sweet, wonderful, WONDERFUL post.

    Thank you

  6. I’ve heard symphonies and been to many Broadway plays, but never the Opera. Good for your grandfather to nurture that in you.

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