In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

OPERA FIRSTS: How I Became an Opera Fan

Jan 22, 2014 1:53:00 PM
By BLO Staff

With the
new year in swing, we are excited here at Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) to be in the
midst of preparations for our upcoming spring productions, Verdi’s
Rigoletto and Bellini’s I Puritani. With each of these
productions, BLO is pleased to offer free dress rehearsal passes to high school
and college student groups
. If you
haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity before, it is a wonderful way to
experience opera for the first time. 
Community Engagement Intern, Melanie O’Neil, writes here about the first time
she fell in love with opera.  We invite
you to take a moment to read her story and think about your own opera
firsts.  What was the first opera
production you ever attended?  When did
you first fall in love with opera?  If
you haven’t had these firsts yet or hope to share them with your students, we
invite you to create those moments with BLO.  
If you would like to attend a final dress rehearsal with your students
at no charge, fill out a request form online. To
supplement and enhance the opera going experience, we are also offering study
guides to provide some background information and lesson plans for each of
BLO’s spring productions.  Click here to view the
Study Guide.

Those who know me find it difficult to imagine “Melanie
before opera,” but six years ago I knew so little about opera that I couldn’t
tell Wagner from Glück.

I don’t come from a particularly musical family, and
the closest contact I’d ever had with opera was through the orchestral excerpts
and overtures I played in my high school orchestra growing up. We were in the
habit of playing the overture to The Barber of Seville with such
frequency that any of us could have played it in our sleep. One day, the title
caught my eye in a newspaper ad for a performance at the local theater. I
attended more to escape the boredom of an utterly eventless city than because I
expected some kind of cultural awakening, but I was surprised to find that the
humor was not at all outdated, but quite witty and the singing fantastically
agile. The performance was enjoyable, but I was by no means an overnight
By some twist of fate, the language institute I had
registered at for the summer of that same year was in none other than Giacomo
Puccini’s hometown, Lucca, Italy. I had only a vague idea of who the composer
was, but that changed very soon after my arrival in Lucca. Like a patron saint
of the city, iconic images of the beloved composer were plastered above shop
doorways, and his unrivaled tenor arias were common knowledge among the locals.
About 15 miles outside of Lucca, at Torre del Lago, there is an annual festival
that celebrates the composer and his ever-beloved operas. Being a guest in his
hometown, I decided a trip to the Festival Pucciniano was definitely in order. 
With a ticket to Tosca
in my hand, I arrived at the bustling station, Piazzale Verdi, and looked on in
horror…I hadn’t the slightest idea which bus I was supposed to be on. I tried
to explain my predicament, but it only seemed to confuse rather than help. The bus
driver looked at me and seemed to say, “I’m not sure what you’re trying to do. Just
get on the bus.” My skepticism did not move him to reconsider my question and begrudgingly
I took a seat. For all I knew I was being shuttled to some distant corner of
the country, never to be seen or heard from again, but after some time I could
see that we were, indeed, headed for Torre del Lago. When we arrived at my
destination, I catapulted myself out of the seat and nearly sprinted off the
bus. Then I began my walk up the long road leading, at last, to the Festival
The city was in bloom and the smell of the sea made
me glad I had not let my apprehension get the best of me at the bus station. Yet,
what I hadn’t taken into consideration, and fortunately realized too late, was
that for all my trouble,  I would not be
able to understand a word of the opera. As Angelotti scampered onstage and
belted the first words of the opera, "Ah, finalmente! Nel terror mio
stolto vedea ceffi di birro in ogni volto!" a light bulb went off in my
head: no supertitles. Whether this was because the theater was open-air or
because the majority of the audience knew the libretto by heart I will never
know, but I swallowed my disappointment and continued watching. As impossible
as it sounds, the language barrier seemed to slip my mind and I realized
afterwards that, not only were the supertitles unnecessary, but they would
actually have been distracting to the total experience.
By the end of Act I there was no question that I had
been affected by the irrepressible contagion that I call “opera mania.” The Act
I finale was the real turning point for me. It had all the complexities and
irony of a great work of literature, the visual splendor of a painted
masterpiece, and, of course, the unparalleled passion of Puccini's musical
idiom. I was sold!
The biggest mistake people make with opera is
thinking that they’re all the same. It’s true that some operas are not for
everyone, but I strongly believe there is an opera for everybody. “Seen one,
seen them all” simply doesn’t work when there are centuries-worth of musical
styles to delve into. Just as with films, books, or albums, the trouble is
simply finding your niche.

Melanie O'Neil
Community Engagement Intern

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