This memoir piece first appeared on my website under memoir in November 2014. I haven’t seen many operas but anytime I see an opera singer on television or attend a program of music from operas, I think of my dad.
This free photo is of an opera singer but I did not recognize the name. Sorry. Here is what I know about my dad and opera.
I remember doing my weekly Saturday chores of bathroom cleaning (where I spent most of my time reading a book with the doors locked) and dusting. If my dad was home, I would dust to the sound of opera on the radio. My dad was a man of diverse tastes. I thought I’d share this bit of writing about my dad as few ever read the few memoirs posted on my website. So here goes.
I don’t know if my dad ever saw an actual opera performance. I truly have no idea how he would have been exposed to opera. I think about his parents and the home of his boyhood. I just can’t imagine a radio tuned to opera. So where did he first hear opera?
I add the opera question to a short but expanding list of questions I wish I’d asked my parents. But it seemed natural when I was growing up to hear the Saturday afternoon weekly broadcast of an opera played fairly loudly while I did my weekly chore of dusting.
It’s only recently that I thought about my dad’s love of opera. I was watching a TV show where contestants had to match costumes with opera characters. That reminded me of dusting to sounds of arias and back and forth dialogues sung with great drama. It got me to thinking about my dad’s love of opera. I realized that love did not fit with his other hobbies. This opera hobby was not shared with his buddies and maybe not even with my mom. She never commented on the Saturday afternoon operas. He’d sit in a chair, head back, listening and smiling. I loved the music. I didn’t understand word one as the singers sang in some foreign language. Now I know it was either German or Italian. Then I was clueless. But I heard tragedy and triumph, could sense a drama being played out. And that intensity seemed to match my own tendency to see life as a continual drama.
Yet when the perfect opportunity to discuss opera with my dad came, I turned to private research instead. One summer while still in high school I worked as a reporter on the local daily newspaper. I was assigned to cover an opera playing in Saranac Lake on a summer tour. No-one seemed to think I was unqualified to handle this assignment. I projected confidence on the outside while I experienced panic on the inside. My dad could have helped but I never thought of going to my dad to see if he could enlighten me. Maybe I was too proud to ask. He seemed to think I could report on anything assigned.
Thus I went to the library, researched the opera, made notes and then attended the live performance. I don’t think my opera loving dad attended. I wrote a story that appeared the day after the event. Maybe the editors of The Daily Enterprise were clueless about operas too because I certainly was totally unqualified to write that story.
My dad probably read that opera review. He read everything I wrote for the paper that summer. To this day, I try to line up his love of the opera with his other hobbies. He loved watching boxing matches on TV, was a Jackie Gleason fan, played golf and poker. He had a wild sense of humor and a loud voice when displeased. Nothing operatic about that voice other than a shared volume level. He was a complex man.
Eventually the strains of operas on Saturday afternoon fell silent. I think the program must have been cancelled or other interests drew my dad’s attention. I was a teenager and too self-absorbed to even notice. And though I loved my dad, we didn’t have heart to heart conversations. Even if I noticed a changed Saturday routine in my dad’s schedule, I wouldn’t have asked him about it. We weren’t friends. He was the parent and I was the daughter. We didn’t begin having real conversations until I was married and had children.
During my girlhood, he’d let me know if I disappointed him. He had great expectations of me as far as academics went and set high standards of moral conduct for me. I knew he loved me unconditionally. What I didn’t know and don’t know still is where his love of opera originated.
What about you, do you like opera? What kind of music is your favorite? Do you have questions you wish you’d asked your parents? And what were your weekly Saturday chores as a kid?