Growing up, you couldn't have paid me to go to the opera. I couldn't stand classical music. It was loud and screechy, and I couldn't understand why anyone would like it. The mere fact that those who did appreciate classical music were considered cultured and intelligent grated on my nerves and made me resent it even more.
In grad school, however, I was fortunate to work with a professor who began to turn me around. A long time classical music critic, she had a love for the arts that was natural and ingrained. Finally, I felt like I was speaking to someone who loved Mozart and Tchaikovsky because she did, not because she was supposed to.
So I started listening. I opened myself up to the possibility of liking classical music, and opera, and I found that I could. I didn't have to understand what all the terms meant. I didn't have to know the history of Beethoven to enjoy his symphonies. I could just listen. I could hear in the music what I wanted to hear.
I took a job as an arts and culture reporter and volunteered to cover the local symphony in the town where I lived. I attended performances when I could.
But I never saw an opera. The budget had been cut too much in the Tennessee town where I lived, and putting on operas would be too costly.
I spent a night in Milan in 2011, hoping to lose my opera maidenhead at La Scala, the holy land of all things operatic. Alas, it was not to be so, and I decided to purchase a recording as a consolation prize. My choice was Rigoletto, because I liked the lilting sound of the name.
But I couldn't, for the life of me, remember the composer.
"Excuse me," I asked another patron, "Do you know who composed Rigoletto?"
He about vomited on his Gucci loafers.
"Who composed Rigoletto?" he sneered at the uncultured American (the Milanese are the least friendly Italians I've encountered). "It was Giuseppe Verdi."
I thanked him and bought the double CD.
Two years later, last Saturday night, I finally had my first live opera experience.
The location: The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. Arguably the La Scala of the U.S.
The opera: Rigoletto. Of course.
Verdi's tragic classic, updated to 1960's Las Vegas (think in the same vein as Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, returns to the stage in April.
It was worth the wait, but I wish I would have gone sooner. Life lesson: You miss out when you assume you don't like something before you try it.
The voices I might have once found screechy were astounding — gorgeous and rich. The story was melodramatic, and I mean that in a good way. Everything is heightened in opera. Rent toned down is La Boheme. If the kids from Glee were singing arias instead of pop songs, and the cost of losing competitions was death, that would be opera.
The venue itself is gorgeous. If you hear a news report about one of the lighting fixtures being stolen, you have my permission to look my way. I was a little disappointed to learn, however, that one does not actually need to dress formally for the opera. Just respectfully. Please note I looked this up first. I didn't show up in an evening gown.
Although, that would have made my incredible night even more amazing.