Night at the Opera

Loretta: [after seeing La Boheme] That was so awful.
Ronny: Awful?
Loretta: Beautiful… sad. She died!
Ronny: Yes.
Loretta: I was surprised…
You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick.
Ronny: She had TB.
Loretta: I know! I mean, she was coughing her brains out, and still she had to keep singing! 

~from the movie Moonstruck


I’ve always wanted to have an opera moment. The soaring arias, the tragic romances, the swell of the orchestra…what would more romantic than going to the opera with the man that you love?

Unfortunately, getting a man to go to the opera is difficult. Even a man like Ed, who plays the trombone in Sousa concerts and sings baritone in the church choir, did not want to take the love of his life (that would be me) to the opera. Ed won’t even take me to the movies. The opera? Forgitaboutit.

In December, I read a fabulous review of the Lyric Opera’s newest production: Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, never dreaming that I would actually go see it.

It just so happened that shortly after I was lamenting that Ed would never take me to the opera, he happened to hear a radio ad about The Mikado. A couple of years ago, Ed had the opportunity to play the trombone in the pit orchestra for a community Gilbert and Sullivan production. While much of the stories in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are told in the singing, there is also dialogue. Plus, Gilbert and Sullivan were English, and so their operettas are also in English. Ed discovered that he liked Gilbert and Sullivan.

Gilbert and Sullivan! At the Lyric Opera! Ed definitely won the prize for the perfect and most surprising Christmas gift for his wife — tickets to the Lyric Opera!

I wanted to be prepared to enjoy my gift to the fullest. When I was younger, my sister and I listened and sang a few of the songs from The Mikado, such as Three little maids from school and Tit-Willow, but I wanted to know more. I bought a digital download of the album and put the soundtrack on my pink Sony Walkman. The Mikado started playing in my kitchen all day long.

It wouldn’t have be right to go to the Lyric Opera without a new outfit. On the morning of the opera, I went to Carson’s and found an adorable purple cardigan with ruffles to wear with my gray tweed skirt.

Ed and I drove downtown and had a nice dinner (without children!) before the opera. I wanted to take pictures of the sign and the opera house, but it was a typical winter evening in Chicago: bitterly cold and windy to boot. Ed and I rushed from the restaurant to the Lyric Opera as quickly as we could.

Getting binoculars along with my tickets should have been a hint about the location of our seats, which were in the second balcony. As I eagerly inquired about our spots, the usher told us we needed to go to the sixth floor.

Up the steps we started to walk. We walked up the elaborate staircase to the second floor and looked over the railing at the chandeliers. Below us was the main lobby, where opera goers were enjoying wine before the performance. We continued up the stairs. The soft, cushy red carpeting ended and we continued up the hard, marble steps. All the way up, as far as we could go. To the second balcony we went.

As we entered the balcony, I had a moment of vertigo. The steps going down to our seats were very steep and narrow. It was a looooong way down to the stage!

The Lyric Opera building, however, is fabulous. Although we couldn’t see the faces of the performers very well, the acoustics are incredible. The music was beautiful, the set was amazing, and the performance was simply outstanding. I am not an opera expert, so a review from me would not have much worth. Simply put, Ed and I were awed by the performances of the entire cast.

I simply smiled when Ed declared, “I would definitely do this again!” and my heart said, “Yay!”

Up to the Balcony, Part 1

Fairy shoes. I thought my mom had fairy shoes. When Mom played the organ, she would slip off her street shoes and put her organ shoes on to play the pedals. Her organ shoes had very pointy toes with tips that curled up slightly. I thought they looked like fairy shoes, although black is not a very fairy-like color.

My sister and I often went with Mom, up to the balcony. We listened to her playing the organ and also her singing. She sang solos often in church, accompanied by my first grade teacher who was the church organist. During one rehearsal, I tripped and fell up the stairs, hitting my head on an old radiator. I cut my head open. As head wounds do, the cut started bleeding profusely. Mom held a wet wash cloth on my head during our 35 mile drive to the nearest emergency room. These were the days of big cars with long bench seats — I sat next to my mom and lay my head down on her lap while my first grade teacher drove. I received a few stitches on my temple that day; the scar is still visible under my hair.

After that trip to the ER, I traipsed up the steps more times than I can count, up to the balcony, to watch Mom play the organ or practice her singing.

Watching an organist play the organ is like watching a carefully choreographed dance. Heels and toes glide gracefully across the pedals; hands and fingers play the keys and change the stops. Many organists also sing along with the hymns they are playing. Organists are the original multi-taskers.

The correlation between church music and organs had been firmly planted in my brain as a little girl. Imagine my amazement when I attended my first major league baseball game and heard an organ playing! Ta-da-da-da-ta-DA! CHARGE! My high school had an organ in the auditorium, and for four years I wondered why. Finally, during baccalaureate, I heard that organ play. And what a surprise to discover my physics teacher was the organist!

After I graduated from high school, I was off to Valparaiso University, where I heard an amazing organist play in the Chapel….

(to be continued)