Guest opinion: A night at the opera
My dad was a sweet man with a wonderful speaking voice. The downside was that in college the following conversation happened more than once.
Roommate holding the phone, whispering excitedly: “Anneli! It’s a guy asking for you! He sounds super cute!”
Me in a honeyed voice: “Helllloooo? … Oh. Hi, Dad.”
Dad also had a nice singing voice and sang in the chorus for the Utah Opera company for many years. This also had a downside. He always happily invited me to the dress rehearsal. My uncultured junior high self unhappily attended. I hope I didn’t complain too much, but the operas were never in English and there were no subtitles. Although Dad would explain the plot, it seemed to me that the operas all boiled down to — they fall in love, there is a problem, someone gets stabbed. I did like the costumes, which were magnificent. For Dad’s sake, I’d at least try to stay awake long enough to see him on stage, but then it was usually over for me until the soprano would emit an especially loud shriek, and I’d wake up enough to look at the costumes again and wonder if it was still Act One. (It was; some of those operas lasted for months.)
For me, the height of sophistication was the night I asked my dad if he thought the tenor had been flat that night?
Photo supplied, Anneli Byrd
“Yes! He really had an off night.” Dad was beaming, delighted that his daughter had such a finely tuned musical ear. Honestly, I think any cat would have figured out something was wrong, but I let him have his fantasy. I hope he cherished it because it was the only joy he ever got from years of dragging me to those rehearsals.
I’m sorry to say that, even now, I’ve never really warmed up to opera. Like sushi, it’s an acquired taste. But there was one performance I wish I had seen.
One Saturday afternoon, Dad was watching a documentary about the famous soprano Beverly Sills who shared a memorable performance. At the climax of the opera, she was supposed to sing her aria and then fling herself dramatically in despair on the sofa. But during the quick scene change earlier, the stagehands forgot to take the sofa off of its wheels. She sang as passionately as only she could, flung herself on the sofa, and went zooming off the stage.
That image still fills me with joy. But I am not entirely without class. I truly love Handel’s “Messiah,” especially the Christmas sing-ins, when they let the audience sing the chorus parts.
In addition to annual happiness, the “Messiah” has also given me two of my favorite misheard lyrics. The first correct lyric is “All we like sheep” (have gone astray). But if you’re my little daughter who got dragged to the sing-along, it’s easy to hear “OH WE LIKE SHEEP!” which gets repeated a lot. I suspect she loves the “Messiah” today, largely because she still loves “the sheep song.” Then there was the friend who asked, “What was that in the beginning about tea?” It took us a minute, but eventually we figured out that she had heard the famous opening line of “Comfort ye” as “Time for tea!” This will derail the solemnity of that song for me for the rest of my life.
Oh well, nobody ever said that classical music appreciation was easy.
Anneli Byrd is an academic adviser in Weber State University’s Student Success Center.