Singin’ in the Grave

Wortham Center has to be one of my favorite places on earth. The first summer that I lived in Houston, I had a friend who was in the adult chorus, and my sister was in the children’s chorus a summer or so later. I spent those years as a brooding Salieri, because I wanted to sing opera and they were the ones actually doing it.

So when the opera season last night opened with The Star Spangled Banner, I couldn’t help myself. Even though I was in the audience, people for three rows were turning around to look because they thought that I was a plant and that somehow the show was supposed to start in Orchestra C. Dana just looked at me like, “stop this right now or I may be forced to kill you.” The music stops and I look over at her… “I’m not a whore. I didn’t take the high B flat. Besides, when am I going to get these kind of acoustics again? Besides, I have to let Theresa know I’m here.”
Dana rubbed her ear. “I think she does!”The only thing I didn’t do, and I now see this as a flaw in my character, is yell “PLAY BALL!” at the end.

And in an instant, I am done being funny and the overture starts and I am right back in that place. The emotional place where all of this is so familiar. The seats that scratched my butt 25 years ago still do today. After about half an hour, my lower back went completely numb and I thought to myself, “some things just never change.”

The curtain goes up and the sets are kind of weird. Cool, but weird. There’s a certain whimsy to it all, as if the backdrop has been illustrated by the same guy that did “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” The magic of opera has begun. I am completely enchanted.Of everyone, I am most impressed with the guy that played Aida’s father. I do not think that he necessarily had the most difficult role, but his voice was outstanding.

The role of Amneris was filled by an appropriately bitter mezzo, complete with claw hand gestures, and by far a better voice than the woman who played the title role.It wasn’t like she missed any notes or anything, and in fact, had some beautifully lyric lines. It was just that the mezzo had more depth and breadth to her voice… so many more colors and emotions that she managed to paint violently across the canvas. I watch Scandal on ABC, and I had to blink to remind myself that I was not watching First Lady Mellie Grant. The languages were different, but the context was the same. “I have to scream at the top of my lungs that I am in love with a man who does not love me and I am very very upset about it! In fact, I am so upset about it that I have to manufacture a scenario in which I can rub my competitor’s face in the dirt for the fulfillment of my own dark and twisted fantasies! And as a bonus, all of the people here tonight can watch!”

In the opera world, that never works. True love will end with two people declaring their undying love for each other by singing and lighting candles in a tomb with no air.

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