O Sole Mio ( or Why I Love Opera)

Earlier this year I was accused on Twitter (by an ass I no longer follow) of acting superior and being condescending for tweeting that I was at a Metropolitan Opera cinecast with my dad.

Screw him.

It’s not about culture. It’s not about being snobby. It’s not because I’m superior.

It’s because it is the one thing that my father and I love, that is our very own private thing, and we are still doing together, as often as we can.

My father, who is 80, was born in Italy, and he loves the opera. My mother always says it’s a shame that he can’t carry a tune because he loves music so much. I am following in his footsteps.

My father dragged my mother to the opera a few times, but it never quite meshed. She was a ‘50s American teenager who had no patience for the delayed rhythm, the cadence, the foreign language.

So when I was 10, she had an awesome idea: “Why don’t you take Tricia to the opera?”

Um. Okay.

So my dad took me to see his favorite opera. “Tosca.”

Tosca jumps, I cringe

In case you don’t know anything about opera, Tosca is considered a very “heavy” opera. A lot of people die, including Tosca herself, who famously throws herself off the parapet of the Castel De Sant’Angelo in Rome, which I would visit several years later on a high school trip.

Let’s just say that “Tosca” is not the story for introducing a child to the opera.

But for me, it was.

OMG...Mimi's dying breath...

But then followed “La Boheme,” a beautiful love story where, yes, the heroine dies at the end and which I would later see reincarnated as the musical “Rent.” From that moment on, my father was forced to see “La Boheme” each and every season, because there is no greater catharsis than watching poor Mimi die, each and every time. “Rent?” Meh. Whatever.

And then he took me to see “Rigoletto.” The father in the story, a court jester, mistakenly kills his daughter whom he takes to be the evil duke who has ravished her. Um, yes dad, I like clowns but lesson learned.

My father and I had many adventures in opera over the years, mostly at the New York City Opera (now in desperate need of funding so it doesn’t close its doors) and the Metropolitan Opera (one of the standard-bearers of all time of the art).

I still have the tiny tote bag I forced him to buy me at the gift shop (my formative years were spent shopping in a LOT of gift shops) and we still laugh about the $10 tuna sandwich we once split at intermission in 1982. We’ve seen dress rehearsals. We’ve seen premiers. We’ve seen Pavarotti at the Met, in “I Lombardi,” several years after I presented my father with the cash to pay for two tickets to the Met to see the Big Man when I started working my first job (I think we were in the last row in the top tier, but it meant everything to me, so I bought a new suit—and wore stockings—and we went out for Chinese food in a place close to his work in Chelsea).

Best half-a-sandwich EVAH!!

You may call me snobby for going to the opera. Maybe you’ll even call me a nerd. But going to the opera, with my father, is one of my favorite places to be. When we moved out of New York in 1995, and forfeited our season subscription to the New York City Opera, a part of me withered, particularly because in the couple of years prior to that, I was forced to miss our last planned performances due to a scary bout of agoraphobia.

We moved to North Carolina. We were both sure we would never go to the opera again.

Thank goodness for Joseph Volpe, the former general manager of the Met, who decided to start broadcasting certain operas, live, across the country and across the world. And thank goodness for Raleigh, North Carolina, for being home to displaced opera fans who clamored to see the productions.

In the last couple of years, we have seen many beautiful productions, with new and up-and-coming singers that have stunned us—Elena Garanca, Roberto Alagna, Anna Netrebko…..

Here’s why I go to the opera: it’s our thing–mine and my dad’s.

As a child, my father worked two jobs so much of my free time was spent with my mother. My father was an awesome dad, often the only one who volunteered each year to be a class father—even attending field trips in my primary school the year after I graduated because they needed male leadership. He was the dad who picked up and dropped off everyone for movie nights in my rural high school town. He was the guy who refused to let me win at checkers and Monopoly because it wasn’t good for my development. He was the dad who put on ice skates for the first time when he was 50 because I wanted to go skating and none of my friends were around to go with me.

But as I got older, and went on to high school and then college, he wasn’t called upon for supervisory duties. We didn’t grow apart…we just grew the way adult children and their parents always do.

And then Joseph Volpe sent the Metropolitan to Raleigh, North Carolina.

Now, each year, my father and I attend several Metropolitan Opera performances at the Brier Creek movie theater in Raleigh. It’s the only thing that’s ever been just ours, the thing we do all by ourselves, and we’re so thrilled that we can do it again, hundreds of miles from home.

There’s a reason that “Nessun Dorma” is my most favorite piece of music ever, and for me, that aria, Pavarotti’s golden voice singing it (and even Jeff Beck’s version), my father, and the gift that he’s given me, will always be intertwined in my memory.

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3 Responses to O Sole Mio ( or Why I Love Opera)

  1. Very cool that you & your Dad still get to enjoy something you both love!

  2. Kwesi B. says:

    Great post!
    Have you ever seen a cartoon called “Dexter’s Lab”. There is an episode of this show in which the entire show is done in Opera format. I credit it with introducing opera to an audience who would normally never find it accessible. Children.

  3. Al_Pal says:

    SO awesome. Loved this post. I think my first operas were in L.A., in HS, with my mom–or maybe mid-college?
    Something Chinese-American [tried to google but had a hard time], Rent, Miss Saigon… Phantom at the Curran in SF [that might’ve even been earlier, on our look-at-colleges trip].

    But the first time I saw old-school Opera, was the Ring Cycle, at the SF War Memorial Opera House, my almost-last year of college, with the fellow I was dating, who’d been going since childhood.

    Several years later, my alumni association had a special deal, and we saw an opera again in SF. The year after that we got a subscription and saw all ten ish. (She couldn’t make it for two so my now-fiance got to go. Sweet.)

    Cheers. 😉

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