End of Season Rumination #1: Opera People

Tonight’s Ariadne opening was a success by any measure that mattered. I’m proud of all the productions we’ve done, but because this one was a huge leap out of our comfort zone, surviving it in style is an additional reason for celebration. The singing sparkled and gleamed, the characterizations made us laugh and sigh, and it was a labor of love within a community of people who are generous of talent and of spirit.

Mama Rose said there’s “no people like show people.” I’m not sure I always knew what she meant, but lately I do.

I grew up in a lovely but pretty sheltered and homogeneous environment. It wasn’t till I spent a few years working as a music therapist in my 20’s that I really saw much of life. (Well, that, and moonlighting in piano bars. I think the latter was far more shocking.) Still, when I fell into the opera business at age 28, I was intimidated by the range of larger-than-life personalities. But all these years later, I am endlessly grateful for the range of absolutely wonderful people I’ve met in this business. I never cease to be surprised by their courage, imagination, honesty, and big-heartedness. And the sheer variety is breathtaking.

Many opera people are old souls. This came up in conversation today, and it’s timely.

And it’s not just about the people on the stage and behind the scenes. These days, I’m also fascinated by the ones in the seats. I bookmarked an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun a few days ago, for it reminded me so much of Ariadne.

A few excerpts:

As an opera fan, I’m used to hearing, “How can you like opera?” Friends complain that opera is unrealistic: “Who sings when they are dying?” They imagine, as I once did, that opera is for the old or the rich. It’s true that opera isn’t for everyone. It’s an acquired taste. But that’s because to appreciate opera, you must first acquire some life experience.

So how can you know if you’re old enough for opera? Here’s my theory: You have to have lived a little and loved a lot.


Ask yourself: Have you ever, against your own good sense and your best friend’s advice, fallen for the wrong person? Do you know, despite the false comfort we offer teenagers, that sometimes unrequited lovers do suffer for years? Have you ever begged God to stop an illness, a death or someone else’s decision? And have you learned that forgiveness doesn’t follow a formula but that it can come like grace after something as simple as hearing a song?

When you are old enough – and have hurt enough – opera doesn’t seem silly at all. If you know from firsthand experience that grief and humor are the two lines running parallel down the center of life’s highway, then you, too, are old enough for the opera.

(Diane Cameron)

I’ve loved Ariadne for a while, but I’ve always had some trouble connecting to the nonlinear, almost metaphysical final scene. I won’t lie to you and say that it makes complete sense to me now, but I suddenly think that I may have lived enough to begin to connect with it.

Some of Hoffmansthal’s text reaches beyond my comprehension, but Strauss’s music spans the gap. 20 minutes of loss and longing is messy and protracted, but all of a sudden, just right. I cried 3 times at the opera this summer – maybe that means I’m old enough, and perhaps it just means that I’m tired. No matter – life would be much poorer in the absence of it all.

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