Ever since I was a small child, I have been addicted to opera. I had old 78 rpm records of complete performances of Hansel and Gretel, Aïda, and La Traviata, the fourth act of La Bohème, and excerpts from Carmen. While still a child, I would struggle to raise enough money to buy a standing-room ticket for Sunday afternoon performances at the San Francisco Opera and take the train across the bay from my home in Oakland every week for five or six weeks to hear whatever opera was being performed. I went on to study music at the University of California, Berkeley, where I took a bachelor’s degree in music in 1958.

My fascination with opera was part of the reason that foreign languages attracted me. I wanted to understand what the operatic characters were saying in French, Italian, and German operas. As a child, I taught myself French and Italian, had four years of Latin in high school, and took German classes (in addition to studying music) in college. Immediately after graduation, I enlisted in the army to go to the Army Language School (now called the Defense Language Institute) and ended up learning Vietnamese, a twist of fate that shaped the rest of my life.

To this day, I am magnetically attracted to the premise of opera, that singers act out a drama. Little that I have seen on stage or screen has matched the dramatic power of, say, the final duet in Carmen that ends in her murder. There is a kind of emotional magic in sung drama.

These days I’m too pressed for time to spend very many hours listening to opera recordings, watching performances, or playing through the scores at the piano. Between writing and doing presentations and readings books for review, I find little free time. But every once in a while, I sneak an hour or two to enjoy opera. It is still a genuinely great art form.

2 thoughts on “Opera”

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