We are nearly at the end of my musical tour. In part 1 of Music and Me, I wrote about how my love of music came from my parents. In part 2, I talked mainly about classical works and in part 3, I took us to gigs with some of the great icons of rock music. In part 4, we went to the theatre to watch a musical or two. And in part 5, I relived some of the more memorable times when I was making the music, rather than just listening to it. In particular, I attempted to describe the pure joy I got when singing Cavalleria Rusticana with Red Earth Opera.
Today, we’re going to the opera once more, but this time, we’re in the audience, rather than on stage. Back in part 2, I mentioned the LP of opera choruses we played at teatime on Sundays. So my introduction to this musical genre was at quite an early age. But I don’t really remember feeling that strongly about it until I went to hear Pavarotti at the NEC in Birmingham. One of the pieces he sang was the wonderful Che Gilida Manina or Your Tiny Hand is Frozen from La Boheme by Puccini. And that was it! I was hooked and have loved opera ever since.
La Boheme has remained a favourite of mine and two performances in particular stand out in my memory. While working in Kiev in the early 2000s, I saw the most moving version ever. As the curtain fell on the final heartbreaking sight of Rodolfo crying over Mimi’s lifeless body, there was absolute silence in the theatre. Your really could have heard a pin drop, before the spell was broken when someone began to applaud. As the lights went up, both men and women in the audience were wiping away their tears. Much more recently, I attended a performance of the final act by a group of young singers from Devon Opera at Aeolian Court, a tiny private theatre in Chudleigh. There was no orchestra, just a piano; and it was a world away from the opera house in Kiev, but the music still grabbed at the emotions and the final moments still brought a tear to the eye.
I worked in Kiev for a number of years and one of my first actions every time I arrived in the city was to head to the opera house to check out the programme. My Russian was rudimentary, but I quickly grew proficient at buying tickets. And it was there that I first saw Aida with my husband. At least, we saw the first couple of acts. We hadn’t realised how long it was going to go on for – and on a weekday, with clients waiting for us next morning, we didn’t feel we could last the whole evening. I did manage to sit through the whole thing the year I took my mother to see it at Earls Court. That was a massive undertaking and I think there might have been live elephants on stage at one point. Although I may have misremembered that. I’ll need to check.
And one final stop down this operatic memory lane: Sydney Opera House, one of the few sights I’ve found on my travels that really is better in reality than in the pictures. I’d flown in from New Zealand; I was tired, but it was too early to sleep, so I went for a stroll and ended up outside the iconic building. The performance was due to start; I couldn’t resist buying a ticket. It was my first introduction to Wagner. Five hours later, I finally returned to my hotel, thoroughly exhausted, but very, very happy. Opera deals with all the major themes of life: love, loss, greed and self-sacrifice. It has so much to teach us, if we could only listen.
Next time, in the final part of this series, we will be going dancing. But for now, it’s over to you, Dear Reader. Any opera buffs out there? And if so, which work really speaks to you?