My wife waited until we had been married for 19 years before taking me to the opera. She was worried I wouldn’t like it, she said. Which was probably smart. I’m the kind of bastard who will sit with folded arms stoicly enduring the joke I wasn’t interested in hearing just then, or the read-aloud article that interrupted the article I was reading at the time, then give a curt nod and go back to my original activity with no response whatsoever, practically screaming my indifference.
Anyway, she apparently knew what she was doing, for which I’m grateful, because I was ready, and otherwise I might have missed the chance to see, or at least to appreciate, Shu-Ying Li as Madame Butterfly at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbara last week.
The part that shocked me the most, I think, is that live opera (good live opera, anyway), while looking and sounding more or less exactly like what I’d always seen on television, turns out to be completely different in person.
It was bigger than I expected, closer, more human, more real. I’ve been to some really amazing concerts in my life, but this was different. I wasn’t sitting in an audience, watching a performer on a stage. I was right there, inside the skin of this poor woman, experiencing her joy, her betrayal, her madness. It was beautiful, and terrifying. I was streaming tears through much of it, and in the final moments I just lost it, my features working uncontrollably as waves of emotion washed over me.
So anyway, I’m an opera lover now. Who would have thought?