A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
Every Saturday, when I was a kid, my mother would tune our tinny kitchen radio to the Texaco Metropolitan Opera presentation. She dusted or cooked as she hummed along.
I didn't get it. I would watch her and shake my head. I couldn't understand her fascination with faraway singers bellowing in a foreign language.
Years later, I was a college student in Paris. I had been there for four months when my sister -- and my mother -- came to visit me.
On Christmas Eve, the three of us trooped out into the drizzly darkness, headed for the opera house and a performance of La Bohéme.
We found our seats down front; they were like thrones. Velvet with gold-painted wood trim. And they didn't fold up.
Then, the music began. This was not the kind of music that funnels through a pair of speakers. This music was everywhere. Surely, this is what heaven sounds like, with its never-before-seen colors and never-before-heard sounds: The orchestra, now soothing, now stirring, Mimi and Rodolfo singing different words at the same time, and it all sounded so perfect and then at the end of that song they both sang amor at the same time and held the note forever.
I was no passive spectator to this. I was included in this miracle, my own heart soaring with Mimi's new love.
As the evening passed, life became more complicated for Mimi and Rodolfo. Mimi was sick, coughing, she had tuberculosis or something. Still, she sang like an angel. Near the end, Mimi was lying in bed, still singing away, but weaker and weaker.
The music was so beautiful, so optimistic...American, almost. It was impossible to think the ending could be anything but happy. I wished my whole life could be orchestrated like this, with violins whimpering during my sad times and a full orchestra, with trumpets, rejoicing along with my high-spirited moments.
And then -- unbelievably -- Mimi sang one last note, and she died. It felt like a trick. She was so young. What was Puccini thinking? This was much too sad. Tears welled up in my eyes and I had a lump in my throat that could not be massaged away with a swallow.
As the performers took their bows, all I could think was: I'd better pull myself together before the lights come up. Embarrassing to be found sobbing over some opera.
Even now, when I cook or dust while listening to my kitchen radio as a faraway performance of La Boheacute;me funnels through the speakers, that same feeling of optimism overtakes me and I still hold out the foolish hope that this time, maybe this time, Mimi will make it.
And as the music floats toward a thundering close, I find myself wiping away tears and sniffling.
My daughter watches me, and she doesn't get it. She wants to know: how can I care so much about this stuff I'm hearing on the radio? Who cares about faraway singers bellowing in a foreign language?
I can't wait to take her to Paris.