An Opera Aficionada Newbie

I belong to several social groups that fall under the umbrella of Meetup.com.

They are groups of people who meet to pursue a common interest, anywhere from book clubs to Santeria. There are literally hundreds of types of groups, with new ones forming all the time. The latest one that I joined is called, New York Opera Meetup. But, I must take one step back. It was not the opera group that brought me to the opera, but another one called Culture for the Non-Cultured, which is organized, extremely well, by another Sheryl. I had taken a fascinating tour of the NYC Library with this group, followed by lunch (many of these groups include eating and drinking of one kind or another) and most recently I joined them at a joint meetup event (with the NYC Opera group) at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center to see the La Traviata.

My motivation for signing up for this event was tri-fold. First, a little background. I must admit to previously not being a fan of the Opera, not at all. I specifically had a distaste for the Soprano voice and never had the patience to listen to an entire opera on the radio or watch it on PBS. The only opera I had ever attended was about 25 years ago, when I had gotten tickets to bring my parents to William Tell , a performance which happened to be in Florence, Italy, at the same time I was spending my semester abroad in my college years. I knew they would be impressed by my effort (they were) and I knew, though I was not a fan, my parents loved the opera, so I would be educating myself, while giving them a gift they would love. All I remember about it was that it was VERY long.

Fast forward 26 years when I get an e-mail from Cultured for the Non-Cultured meetup group to attend La Traviata at the low cost of $26 (seats in the nose-bleed section, more politely called the Family Circle, but affordable seats, all-the-same). So, call it circumstance, fate or chance, but call it the first fold of said motivation.

For the past few years, I have been re-evaluating my dislike of opera and considering trying to gain an appreciation of it. One reason was that I used to have a friend who loved opera, so much, that he could sing many of the arias and tell most of the stories (or should I say melodramas; huh, so, that is where the term soap opera comes from!). Also, ever since I saw the movie, Moonstruck, one of my many fantasies has been to "be" Cher, attending
Puccini's "La Boheme", at the Met, with Nicholas Cage. Oh that I could be swept off my feet by an overwhelming passionate love, defying all expectations - a passionate love!!! Anyway, back to reality, the opera loving friend and a far-fetched fantasy were the other two folds of my motivation.

So, I went to Wikipedia and printed out an explanation of La Traviata, background on the composer, Giuseppe Verdi and some information on this particular production, which had as its Production and Set Designer, Franco Zeffirelli. I read it on the bus ride into the city. It was a rainy day, which may have been why there were no cabs at Port Authority Bus Terminal, so I hoofed it from 40th and 8th to 65th and Broadway (that was the address I had, but I actually had to walk back to Columbus Ave. where Lincoln Center is "quietly" nestled, away from the noise of the traffic of any of the streets or avenues). Because this event was meant for people, like myself, new to the world of opera, the organizer of the Opera Meetup group, spent about 30 minutes giving us an interesting talk on the Met and it's history (that's how I learned about its "nesteled location"), as well as the opera we'd be seeing and it's composer. And then it was onward and UPWARD to our seats, which were not together since each person buys their ticket separately. Between each of the three acts, we met as a group in front of the Red Marc Chagall Mural, which famously and beautifully adorns the wall above one of the many bars in the building.

The opera experience that I had was more than I expected. Just being in the Met was truly magical...it's size and grandeur, the gorgeous chandeliers that resemble indiviualized snowflakes, looking down on the grand staircases and being among people of all ages, dressed from informal to elegant and simply "knowing" where I was all added to an amazing experience. Before the first act began, the chandeliers in the theater slowly rose upwards, I would assume to keep them from upstructing vision of the stage. Despite sitting so far from the stage, my handy opera glasses served their function well and allowed me to feel connected to the performers and the action on stage. In front of every seat, even non-seats, which is to say, in front of standing room only, there is a window in which you can read translations of the opera. I didn't think I would read them, as I thought it would interfere with the flow of the opera, but in fact, I read them throughout and found that they enhanced my experience.What most impressed me and totally surprised me, was that I loved the singing of the "diva", who in this case was Ruth Ann Swenson, who sang the part of Violetta. I loved everything about her voice...the range, and what they call florid runs and trills. I even loved the over the top drama of the arias. I had read about a technique Verdi uses in writing one part for Violetta where she reads a farewell letter she has written to her lover, Alfredo, and she "speaks" the words with a musical background, which serves to echo her feelings, rather than accompany her voice. This technique is called "melodrama", that is, a dramatic reading with a melodic background. Live and learn!

I can not fully analyze what it was that I so enjoyed while watching and listening to this opera; it is easier to say what I did not experience, that I thought I might have. I was not bored. I was not bothered by the fact that it was sung in a language I could not understand. I was not even thinking about what I was experiencing. I was mostly in the moment. I suppose that's the best that can be said of any experience. And so it was.


The Question Is, Is America Ready for Obama?

I listened to Barack Obama's speech tonight that he gave today in Philadelphia. I have been saying for years that the biggest problem we face as a nation is the problem of Race in America. I have long thought that the Racial Divide and the Divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots is the biggest problem that we are not facing and thus will be the one that will eventually overcome us. Instead of "we shall overcome", the results of racism in America will overcome us.

Barack Obama so eloquently and so succinctly spoke of how we must make the attempts to bridge these gaps; that we must do so by realizing that by raising those who have fallen, we raise ourselves. We must do so by realizing that "those children" are "our" children, that we are ONE NATION.

But, I'll tell you what really scares me. I watched Barack Obama give his speech and I cried. I cried because I think that we, the United States of America, may not be good enough for him. I cried because I am afraid that we may not be ready for him and maybe never will be. I cried becasue we may lose the opportunity of a lifetime to choose a leader who has that great quality of seeing clearly, from many angles and through many eyes and can use that clarity towards changing the direction of our country.

I think that Obama is offering himself as a means to an end, as a way to reach across the many divides we have in this country between Black and White, Blacks and Jews, Black and Brown People, Black Christians and White Christians, Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Christians, Muslim nations and Western Nations, including the United States, Rich and Poor, Educated and Non-Educated and finally Red and Blue. He is offering himself as a bridge that may help to not only cross these divides, but perhaps bring the sides closer together and thus better able to understand how the "other" feels and why each side acts the way they do and through this understanding maybe each side can learn to, if not love, at least hate less "those people" on the other side of the divide.

The challenge is ours and the opportunity is ours to embrace or lose, maybe forever.