Like lima beans, “opera” is an acquired taste. I didn’t always like lima beans and I didn’t always like opera. But I’ve always loved music and eventually, I’ve learned to love both!
The first music I remember listening to, when I was four or maybe even three years old, was the music my parents liked: Jimmy Dorsey, Patty Paige, Perry Como. In grade school, I sang in the chorus and became familiar with popular songs arranged in 2-part and 4-part harmony. I joined a church choir and sang sacred music by some of the greatest composers: Bach, Handel and Byrd. Meanwhile, back in my bedroom, I would shut myself away and listen to my LPs (= long playing records) of popular teen music: Dave Clark Five, The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, as well as music written for musical theater: Oklahoma!, Carousel, The Sound of Music, South Pacific,The Man of La Mancha, and many, many more. This was the music that I loved the best. I listened to these records so many times that I learned every single word by heart!
After I graduated from college, I wanted a career as a singer in musicals. I auditioned for nearly two years but my dream never came true. And have you noticed? There was still no opera in my life. Instead, I became involved in a business career. I went to see a few operas but I didn’t understand them and was really bored by it all.
Then one day, my voice teacher (I was still taking voice lessons) asked if I wanted to sing in the chorus of an opera. I said, “yes, sure, why not”. I had to learn the music on my own and that was very difficult because it was in Italian and I didn’t speak Italian then! But I went to the rehearsal and while singing with everyone, could not believe how beautiful the music was. It “blew me away”. Ever since that night, I began to learn more about opera.
Operas require that you do a little “homework” before you go to see them. It helps to read a synopsis (summary) of the story, and then the libretto (the text that is sung). Next, I listen to the whole opera and follow the text with a side-by-side translation. Finally, I listen to the opera all by itself, sometimes with my eyes closed so I can imagine what it might look like on the stage. Then and only then do I feel prepared to go see a live performance.
When I was little, I didn’t like lima beans. But as I grew older, I began to like them more and more. Now, I love lima beans…just like I love opera.
In fact, a friend and I started a small opera company in NYC called Chelsea Opera. But that story is the next blog.
But I’m curious: is there something you like now that you didn’t like when you were little? What kind of music do you listen to? Do you know why you like it? Have you ever listened to or seen an opera?