Being a true opera lover is a commitment, however, once you catch the bug, resistance is futile. Here is the latest edition to our blog series which explores life-changing moments when opera lovers were born.
Pietro Antoni De Vita
Visiting the Lyric Opera of Chicago when just a kid of 20 (my first solo trip anywhere), I was as excited as can be over the prospect of seeing and hearing my first Faust with none other than three of the greatest singers of the time: Mirella Freni, Alfredo Kraus, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Knowing the score well, I was in utter anticipation of what was to come and could barely contain myself. I literally was a bundle of nerves as if I were the one to be performing. With the rise of the baton, one of the greatest operatic evenings of my life unfolded—all three major singers in splendid voice. The production was a gorgeous, rich, traditional staging of those beloved years. I was in rapture as we approached the first break (a very long two hours.) I thought I would literally melt away as Faust and Marguérite began their rapturous hymn of love. It was all ethereal, like an out of body experience. Nothing disappointed me as I awaited the final trio which sent me over the top. And, one of the most gratifying gifts of the evening was the meeting of Mirella, Alfredo, and Nikolai. Mirella and I formed a connection which lasted well past her performances of Fedora at the Metropolitan Opera and [Washington] DC Opera, where I had a private audience with her not too long before she retired. Those, indeed, were the days!
Above: a recording of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's 1980 production of Faust by Charles Gounod.
I saw my first opera in December, 1969 and it was at the Palais Garnier—the old opera house in Paris. I hated it. I thought it was clumsily staged and just too melodramatic for my taste. As a young man classical music was my music of choice, but I felt opera was not for me. I was on a winter-time trip to Europe and the woman I was traveling with was a pianist and an opera lover, so I was going along happily. After all, it was Paris, then Milan, Munich, Vienna and Budapest. So I felt I would just have to put up with opera even if I didn't care for it. Well, the next one was at La Scala—Don Carlo, with [Claudio] Abbado conducting, [Nicolai] Ghiaurov as Philip, [Rita Orlandi] Malaspina as Elisabeth, [Sherley] Verrett as Eboli, [Martti] Talvela as the Inquisitor, [Piero] Cappuccilli as Posa, and [Plácido] Domingo as Carlo. It knocked my socks off. I was completely enthralled.
Then it was [Birgit] Nilsson as Turandot in Munich, Lisa Della Casa in Arabella, Erich Kunz as Papageno in Vienna, Gundula Janowitz, Walter Berry and James King in Fidelio in Vienna. There were a few clunkers along the way: a really boring Macbeth, a less than awesome [Die Walküre] in Budapest. But I was hooked. Other trips to Europe, some great productions, some not so much.
Coming to Canada I was lucky enough to have the type of career enabling me to be involved with opera. Here in Canada and in the United States, I have had the opportunity to experience the wonderful, risky world of opera and to see and hear some truly memorable productions. That first trip, and that encounter with that cast of Don Carlo, was instrumental in installing a love for and commitment to opera.
Above: Plácido Domingo and Rita Orlandi Malaspina in La Scala's 1969 production of Verdi's Don Carlo, photo by Erio Piccagliani.
Banner photo: David Pomeroy and Ana Ibarra in Faust (COC, 2007), photo by Michael Cooper
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001