A Passion for Opera!

My Introduction to Opera

I was 19 the first time I went to the opera. The parents of a college friend invited me along to experience one of the most excruciatingly boring evenings of my life.

The opera was Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, and Shakespeare never seemed so weird and inaccessible. I still vividly remember shifting in my seat and feeling trapped having to listen to several adults screaming and shouting all at once in a language I did not understand.

But I also vaguely remember that evening, a moment towards the end of the opera that caught my attention. It was Desdemona’s prayer during which the whole auditorium fell eerily silent, seemingly mesmerized, as a voice pure and simple sang an Ave Maria – and I Listened!

Unfortunately, the prayer was short lived and ultimately in vain. For as poor Desdemona finished and lay her head on the pillow, the orchestra interrupted my brief respite of tranquility, first with an ominous chord and then a thunderous clap.

Otello entered the bedchamber through a secret door and proceeded to strangle his innocent wife, accompanied by more loud and brutal noise. I know now that it was Verdi’s prayer that insidiously hooked me on opera.

The perpetrator of my misery that evening was the Metropolitan Opera on tour. So smitten would I become with opera, that some years later I wrote to the archivist of that opera house, searching for an answer to the question, who besides Verdi that evening had planted in me the insidious potion that had activated my opera DNA.

I received a most gracious letter back, some days later, informing me that the astounding cast for that performance had included James McCracken as Otello, Gabriella Tucci as Desdemona and Robert Merrill as Iago. That letter comforted me, as I was pleased to learn that at least my addiction and passion for this great art form had begun with the operatic equivalent of a fine reserve wine.

And for me, so many years later, it remains that there is no greater Opera than the one I saw that momentous evening: Verdi’s masterpiece, Otello.