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A night at the opera

May 13, 2008|By ERICA SYVERSON / Pulse Correspondent

Going to the opera conjures up images of Nicholas Cage and Cher, dressed to the nines, standing outside the Metropolitan Opera in New York --

(... cue the sound of a needle screeching across vinyl album).

Now, cut to the pair of us -- me and my mom, modern-day bohemians -- comfortable in just a pair of jeans and a faded Jimi Hendrix T-shirt any day. Such was not our attire as we stood outside Baltimore's opera house, the Lyric. Yes, my mom and I found ourselves clad formally and feeling more out of place than either of us had in a long time.

I asked Mama if she would go see "Madama Butterfly" because I had two free tickets, but I don't drive and, alas, had no way of getting there. Daddio was four-square against it, fussing about rising gas prices. I countered that a trip to the opera might be considered a Mother's Day present. Suddenly, a trip to Baltimore seemed less costly than dinner for four at Richardson's on the Dual.

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So, off we went, not knowing that this might be one of the most memorable nights of our lives.

"Madama Butterfly" is one of the most popular operas ever written. Its author, Giacomo Puccini, also wrote "La Boheme," and these two operas are considered his most popular pieces. Though written in Italian, these operas are performed all over the world.

"Madama Butterfly" is the lamentable tale of Cio-Cio San, aka Butterfly, a young geisha who devotes herself to American naval officer Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. But after renouncing her family and religion for Pinkerton's love, Butterfly is abandoned by the American when his ship leaves Japan. She waits faithfully for three years for him to return, but he only comes back when he hears he has a son. Butterfly had given birth to the boy, named Trouble, after Pinkerton left.

Pinkerton returns to Japan with his new American wife, Kate, to claim the boy and request that Butterfly allow Kate to raise him as her own. Butterfly agrees, on the condition that her ex-husband comes to her house to claim the boy himself. Grief-stricken, Butterfly says goodbye to Trouble and goes into the garden to perform a Japanese ritual suicide. "Let him die with honor, who can no longer stay alive with honor," were her last words, dying as Pinkerton came upon the house, calling her name.

During the show, I watched the faces of the people sitting around us. I was astonished to find stony glares and straight faces. The woman to my right rolled her program up, then unrolled it. Then she rolled it up ... then unrolled it ... The tall gentleman in front of me couldn't stop sighing -- I think it was out of admiration, not boredom. Someone behind me wouldn't stop chattering.

But the whole lot of us went still with awe when Cio-Cio San said her good-byes and the screen came down in front of her. I'm not sure how many people were in tears by the end of the opera, but Mama had to borrow my lucky bandanna because she wasn't prepared to get all weepy.

Everyone stood and applauded. Everyone. It was an amazing show.

There is a common misconception about opera. It isn't something reserved for the curly-moustache-and-trophy-wife types. People tend to ignore opera as a genre because they assume it's not for the average Jane/Joe.

Just like all music, opera is for anybody and everybody. I realized this when I felt the goosebumps on my arms during the third act. Just like when I'm listening to crooners and rockers, I had an autonomic response to the sounds and sights around me. It's an experience I would like to have again.

You can't just like opera, people say: You either love it or hate it. But you can't find that out until you give it a chance.

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