BETTY STEIN: There is nothing quite like opera

A few weeks before the end of this school year, our vocalists had a treat. Heartland Sings performed an opera workshop for them. This was their introduction to the world of grand opera and they loved it.

The young guest artists not only discussed what the arias were about but acted as well, so the youngsters were caught up in the performance as they learned something new and something beautiful. Actually, I think opera is perhaps the greatest of the fine arts because it combines all of them. Words, music, costuming, scenic design, acting, often dance – well, just let me say I am a fan of opera..

This love affair started many years ago. My dad had some records for our old windup Victrola and among the songs I listened to over and over again were those from “Pagliacci” and “Rigoletto.” Caruso was the soloist I remember most fondly, and I suffered right along with him as he sang how a clown must always laugh though his heart is breaking. Our library had books with the stories of the popular operas, with illustrations of costuming and often several bars of the music, so I could play it on our piano and get to know more arias.

Then as a girl I saw a matinee of “Madama Butterfly” at the Shrine Theatre and that did it. I wept for poor Cho Cho San, didn’t forgive Lt. Pinkerton and waited for more operas to thrill me. As a young woman I went to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and what a thrill that was. I felt surrounded by the famous names that had performed there over the years, Melba, Tetrazinni, Gigli, Caruso, Galli-Curci — so many greats. This was the old opera house, not the newer, magnificent replacement used now. And the love affair continued. When I was in Vienna, I went to opera every night. What a treat! Curt and I saw “Aida” in Rome,and the Triumphal March was unforgettable: there were even camels marching acress the stage. I even learned to sing the “Habanera,” but I’ll be quiet when our Philharmonic performs “Carmen” this coming season.

Last week I saw “RBG,’ at Cinema Center (a not-to-be missed film) and was happy to learn of Justice Ginsberg’s affinity for opera and how she and Justice Scalia, so totally different in their viewpoints on other things, were both ardent opera fans and became good friends because of that. We even got to spend a little time listening to some of the music they enjoyed. And as you know, our public radion station brings us the Met every Saturday afternoon during the opera season

There is nothhing esoteric about opera. It is drama enhanced by beautiful human voices and other musical instruments, and I’m so glad our young people at Memorial Park Middle School enjoyed the workshop. Want one in your school?

Betty Stein is a resident of Fort Wayne

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