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August 10, 2009

For the Love of Opera

teatro-la-fenice%20interior%20small.jpgI’ve been listening to tons of opera lately. It’s interesting how opera was one of the early loves of my life, then faded a little into the background as I spent about ten years reading every comic play in existence, and has now come back into my life with a bang. Partly this is because my kids are such wonderful musicians, and it’s been a treat introducing them to my favorite operas.

We have a subscription this coming season for The Washington Opera and I can’t wait till it starts. Our first, I think, is “The Barber of Seville.” (Admittedly, we all crack up when we hear the big Figaro aria because we always think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he sings it.)

CountAlmavivaGeraldFinleysmall.jpgMy favorite opera of all time has to be Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, but Verdi’s Falstaff runs it a mighty close second. Tonight we were watching our favorite DVD of The Marriage of Figaro. It has Gerald Finley as Figaro and Alison Hagley as Susanna (she’s sublime) and it’s a genuine work of art. The opening scene where Figaro is measuring the room for the marriage bed is both hilarious and touching at the same time. Renee Fleming plays the Countess, Andreas Schmidt is the Count and Bernard Haitink conducts. I just couldn’t recommend it more highly. (A company called Kultur sells it and I assume it’s still in print.)

I was a music composition and theory major in college as a result of my love for opera. And from there everything just deepened. The biggest thrill of my musical life was studying with Leonard Bernstein. Be still my heart. I wish I could go back and do it again.

Lend Me A Tenor, of course, is about the world of opera; and I wrote it partly to honor that world that I loved so much. I remember that during the run of Tenor on Broadway I used it as the basis for a question on The Texaco Opera Quiz – and they put it on the air and I was thrilled to bits. (And I got some free CDs out of it.)

I don’t know why I fell in love with opera so early. It was just love at first listen. I often wonder about my passion for all things Shakespeare in the same way. I don’t know why I started loving it at such a young age – I heard the first few words and my eyes started spinning around in my head.

Pretty much the earliest Shakespeare I ever heard was a recording of Richard Burton’s Hamlet. For whatever reason, I bought the LPs and I listened to them so much that I literally wore out the plastic. (I recently acquired a new set of the LPs for old time’s sake through eBay – though the performance is now available on DVD.) cyril2small.jpgOne of my fondest recollections of my father is when I was tiny and he shlepped me to a movie theatre to see a re-release of the movie of Julius Caesar with James Mason, John Gielgud and Marlon Brando. He had no more interest than the man in the moon, but he took me anyway. What a dad. (Only rivaled by my mom taking me backstage in New York to meet the great actor/director Cyril Ritchard (pictured right) – where opera and plays met in a single, wonderful man. What a mom.)

So now I’m heading back to Act Two of Marriage of Figaro. It may keep us up all night, but what a way to spend the summer.