Jim Mitchem makes a discovery about himself. At the opera.
It’s funny how you discover things about yourself when you’re not looking. Like last week, for example, when I found out that I’m not an opera guy. My wife wanted to expose our daughters to opera, and one of my friends with Opera Carolina comped me some tickets for the last dress rehearsal of The Magic Flute, by Mozart, at the beautiful Belk Theater in Charlotte. It was school night performance so the place was packed with kids ranging in age from early elementary to high school. We showed up fifteen minutes early and staked great seats for the general admission show.
The lights dimmed, the music started and Mozart washed over the crowd casting a spell on the restless children. Then, talented players with amazing voices told a story. A story I just didn’t care about. I attributed my ambivalence to how the setting for the story is over 200 years old. The pace of the storytelling was also something I had issue with, as players sang the same lines more than once (who knew?) On purpose. The play was originally written in Italian but was performed for us in English and was accompanied by a little LED screen above the stage where they revealed the words to the songs. Thank God, because without that I was completely lost. A few hours later, it was over. Pamina and Tamino walk off into the sunrise with their Magic Flute leading the way, and everyone else’s story wrapped up nicely. And I couldn’t care less.
I’ve always held opera as one of the high arts, along with ballet and the symphony. Under that upper tier is another level that includes fine art, sculpture, and traditional theater. Under that, everything else. Including literature, and rock and roll. Me and my wife came from similar upbringings. Neither of us had routine (any) access to the high arts. We each grew up with commercial radio and the movies as our primary (only) reference point to the cultural traditions. That’s why we are so adamant about exposing our own daughters to as many of the arts as we can. We visit galleries, we encourage painting and creating, we attend theater, and now have gone to the opera. The way I see it, eventually our daughters will fall victim to the machinelike routines that most other Americans endure as adults, and so giving them a reference point to a range of arts at an early age will help counter-balance the din of the machine later on. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll figure out a way to scratch out a decent living through their own creativity rather than having to get in line with the rest of the rats to advance commercialism for the super rich.
As for me not being an opera guy, it’s ok. I have nothing but respect for anyone who finds a way to make a living in the arts. And me not liking the opera says more about me, than the form itself. After all, I don’t like Bruce Springsteen either.