Every Good Morning

You Can Listen Here

The Met was packed, we couldn’t get seats together, and so for my first opera experience sometime in the late 80’s I ended up sitting between gowned sisters who unfolded massive librettos* on their laps and whose blue fox furs both had their heads turned toward me, their beady glass eyes letting me know that I had better behave.

To please my wife I had agreed to see The Marriage of Figaro; I thought I had a chance when some guy dressed in peasant garb ledMaria+Callas a donkey on stage. I remember dimly thinking maybe there will be more animals, and maybe this will be a kind of circus opera, ok!, but that was the highlight and within 20 minutes I was snoring like a hyena and sister #1 was rapping my left knee with a rolled up program.

Not until my wife made me listen to Maria Callas sing Casta Diva, an aria from Norma, did I backflip and fall hard. Callas’s voice seemed to contain all the ache and yearning of love it might be possible to express, in this life at least.

magic flute 1For me, her voice seemed to suddenly take shape as the physical embodiment of a soul, but then as I listened to other arias and duets she had performed, it acquired more mythic power — she seemed to be reaching out and creating souls, creating new sensitivities, uncovering new arenas of feeling, of depth of feeling.  I had never heard anything like it. I have been listening to and attending operas ever since.

Following the thread of that first experience explains how we came to be sitting in  the Academy of Music cramped in tiny seats 80 feet from the stage ready for Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a comic fantasy about a Queen of the Night and the Masons and romance, well, only the romance matters here — and the overture rose up from the Pit and the curtain rose and lots of characters dressed in 18th century clothes scampered everywhere, laughing and playing, and when the singing began, three black leathered sirens in braids appeared and a black dragon with three heads and pink wings and the hero in tails the color of a blue sky. Then add a flute and bells that perform magically as protection against enormous white headed crocodiles and sorcerers and fire and water. When the Queen made her appearance, she wore eyelashes as big as wings and she sang a series of trills that seemed almost supernatural in their control and beauty, and when the three boys rescue Pamino,* the heroine, from despair that she will never see her lover again, the four combined voices mesh, soar, mainline into our emotions such desperate tenderness.

There is no point in writing more. What matters is the music and the voices. Therefore, let me leave you with a few selections from other operas and other singers. Give yourself a chance. Listen. We all need beauty in order to help stave off a hard world.

A Te, O Cara – Luciano Pavarotti – I Puritani

Sumi Jo & Ah-Kyung Lee – Delibes – Lakme – Flower Duet

Bizet – Carmen – Habanera

*The text of the libretto, in translation, is now shown on a screen above the action on stage in most opera houses.

**From a movie production directed by Kenneth Branagh of Hamlet fame!



© Mike Wall

6 Responses

  1. Sheila McIntyre says:

    Dear Mike,
    My beloved son, Nathan, watched this opera (on video from the Norristown Public Library) with me when he was 3 years old! He LOVED it! He would not leave the television. He couldn’t read the English subtitles, so surely it was the music and the drama unfolded that he found so enthralling! I swear! When Papageno and Papagena sang their aria together with all of the baby birds coming out he howled with delight! He knew what was happening. I remember him saying so — that Papageno wanted boy birds and Papagena wanted girl birds! It is one of my most cherished memories with my son. Oh, the magic of Mozart and the Magic Flute!

  2. Sheila McIntyre says:

    Oh, and one more thing, and I should be ashamed to say this…but I don’t know if I could turn away the offer from the devil to be able to sing the Queen of the Night Aria just one time in private (but in a beautiful acoustic setting) and never sing again. Such a temptation!! It is so beautiful! To sing that? I don’t know…maybe I would sell my vocal cords for all eternity. Maybe… Hmmm….it might be worth it just for that one time! What a memory!

  3. Sheila McIntyre says:

    My apologies for calling the piece between Papageno and Papagena an aria. Silly me! It is duet, of course!

  4. Elaine says:

    Time to take a trip to the opera house in Vienna!

  5. Lisa says:

    I have been reading all your posts and enjoyed them immensely. I’m sorry I haven’t let you know sooner and stayed in touch better…constant changes and movements of life that are not always good ones. I hope to do better.

    I will have to be the Philistine here and probably be the only person to tell you how much I hate opera. I grew up with opera blasting through our house since I was 10 years old. My step father forced that music on all 6 kids regularly.
    When he would take a break, he then bought an organ and learned to play that. Loudly and often.
    He taught himself Italian as well and spent two full years refusing to speak in English to anyone in the house, except my mom who understood it..
    Now, you may think what a talented man….and perhaps he was. But he ruined opera and organ playing for me. Organ playing for me came from the Doors only and other groups like Santana.
    Regarding Italian, my grandparents lived with us so I knew that decently. He spent his time correcting their old world dialect which of course, made them feel ignorant and uneducated, which they were.
    But I gotta bag out of this one. I just can’t stand opera. Through the years we all ended up buying our own earphones and blasted away listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Moody Blues, and Stevie Wonder. It was a Wonder to block out the deafening sound of opera. Opera only helps me do the NY Times crossword puzzle…BTW, my step father was a pig and fit the stereotypical Italian known as a Caphon (greaseball). I can say that b/c I enjoy everything else about being Italian. How did I ever get all Irish names for my kids…go figure.

  6. Joe Gallagher says:

    Once again you’ve struck a chord (pun intended) with me. All of us can look back to a time when music slapped us in the face. Wheteher it was Pink Floyd, Herman’s Hermits, or The Marriage of Figaro, something grabbed us and forced us to see the world differently, personally, intimately. Thank you, again, for expressing what we all feel.

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