Friday, March 31, 2017

Memories of Opera

I'm finishing my spring break week by visiting my mom in Minnesota. My mom is 94 and slowing down. She complains of not feeling well, of stomach problems and losing weight, and most of all, of being tired. Though I've only been here a few hours I can already see the positive change that having company, especially family, visit is doing.

My mother has also told stories about her childhood and her family. She grew up in western Minnesota in a very small town surrounded by farms. A lot happens in small towns, as any number of novels and biographies can testify.

As children, my sister and I loved to hear the story of her white cat with the green eyes. One day when my mother was about 10, the neighborhood children found that I white cat had been killed by a passing car. It was my mother's cat and she was distressed. The kids decided to have a proper funeral, and buried the unfortunate feline with a ceremony and lots of crying, especially from my mother. After the funeral what should stroll around the corner of the house, but a white cat with green eyes. It was my mother's cat. The cat that they had just buried was a white cat with blue eyes belonging to a girl down the street. This started a new cycle of weeping. Maybe this type of thing is where the idea of cats having nine lives comes from?

However, today's story is about opera, not cats. I previously wrote about opera, in particular the opera Carmen, so I think this an appropriate way to bring the month of blogging to a close. After college, which my mother was able to attend because my grandmother was determined that her daughter would get a good education, my mother became a math teacher. She taught in Duluth and Elbow Lake, in the Iron Range. This was not an area known for its culture. But, my mother told me, every year the Metropolitan Opera would go on tour and would present several operas in Minneapolis. She and her best friend would catch a bus from Duluth after school on Friday and take it to Minneapolis, where they would see several operas. They would take the bus back to Duluth on Sunday evening.

The first opera she ever saw was Faust by Gounod. She remembers how Mephistopheles wore a black cape that opened up to a dramatic red lining. After that first opera, she said, she was hooked. She remembers seeing Carmen (my first ever opera), Pagliacci, and Cavallerio Rusticana. As I listened, I thought, how wonderful that the Metropolitan Opera, one of the greatest opera companies in the world, would tour the country every year. They also had a radio broadcast of the Saturday afternoon opera for decades.

Today it's not as difficult to actually travel to New York City. But even you can't go there, the Met now simulcasts some of their operas to movie houses across the country -- not equivalent to getting to see a live production, but a benefit to opera lovers who don't live close to NYC. But there's still magic in the idea of the traveling opera company. And in the thought of my young mother spending hours on a bus in order to have her weekend at the opera in Minneapolis.


  1. Oh gosh, I have a feeling I would love hearing more stories from your mom! 94 years is truly a lifetime. God bless her.

    1. She does have a wealth of stories, and they're all from a world that doesn't exist anymore. Thank you!

  2. Your mom is a story teller like her daughter - no surprise there!
    have a great visit and get those stories down on paper - or the internet!

    1. You're right! I was thinking the same thing when I was listening to her last night, I need to record these stories! Even some of the ones I've heard before come with different details when she retells them. In some cases I think she is telling the "adult" version rather than the simpler version she told us as kids.