When I was fifteen my mother gave me The Art of the Prima Donna, a recording made by the Australian soprano Joan Sutherland.
Dame Sutherland’s singing stopped me in my tracks. I had never heard anything so beautiful–the pyrotechnics of Lakme’s The Bell Song, Casta Diva from Bellina’s Norma.
This music took me out of an intolerable adolescent world in which that same mother and I were in a terrible deadlock and power struggle, embittered into long estrangements– agonizing for a daughter. I learned that art transcends pain and gives pain a voice.
Later, when I was first in college, I lived up a beautiful canyon, in a cabin. I brought my records with me, and listened to opera. I was especially captivated by La Traviata; it was cathartic for me; as the music surrounded me I would close myself in my room and let go of the darkness and sorrow I had been carrying for many years. Someone was giving voice to what I felt: to longing for a rich life, for a real, romantic, and enduring love.
Later, it was La Boheme, the rich and lyrical music of Puccini, the poignantly impossible love between Rodolfo and Mimi, that brought color into my life and transformed the ordinary into pure beauty and more hunger.
I recently finished a draft of the story of a time decades ago when I was blessed with the opportunity to live an opera within an opera and as I’ve indicated in my posts of the past few days, I have been shaken by writing about this experience. I have brought someone and something back to life.
In the writing, on occasion, I have gone online looking for Rodolfo, my Rodolfo, the diminutive Calbrese, the romantic pre med student whose language I learned, whom I met when two women friends and I parked our VW bus near a piazza in Verona at nightfall in 1973.
On that journey, Fate showered us with rose petals: an entirely chance meeting: a young woman from America, a young man who with his two young nephews sat behind us.
Our “vita breve insieme”– our brief life together– wound down when we were sitting in the Arena di Verona, at twilight, as Rudolfo began to sing to Mimi. Just as our joy had bound us together as young lovers, our sorrow had an operatic dimension. There was some kind of eternal equation in play: we gave ourselves to fate, and then fate took us away from each other.
I still see us, sitting in front of a cafe in a tiny, jewel of a town, where he taught me the song of the Italian resistance, writing it in my journal.
As a closet coloratura, singing when I know I won’t disturb anyone, I sing to him.
I think that the next book I write will be about a woman who realizes that she missed out on the love of her life, and resolves to try to find him, only to……
But that sounds somewhat daunting, emotional, consuming….even operatic.