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Opera, tragedy, and a sense of hope

Last night I attended an opera for the first time in my life, and all I can say is, wow! I’ve always thought that I didn’t like opera, which was a mistake, since I’ve never actually seen an opera. The reality was far different than I expected.

My opportunity to see an opera came about because my son David is singing in the children’s chorus for the Baltimore Opera Company production of Tosca. I’ve seen parts of it throughout the last few weeks at rehearsals, but last night we actually got to see the performance in its full glory. It was simply amazing! It was far, far better than any movie I’ve seen in recent years. In fact, it makes most modern movies seem bland and insipid.

Tosca has everything you could want in story: love, jealousy, politics, a smarmy villian, torture, personal heroism, and yes, tragedy. Set in Rome against the background of the Napoleonic wars, it tells the story of the painter Cavaradossi and his love, the singer Floria Tosca. Cavaradossi risks his life to help an escaped political prisoner, and finds himself at the mercy of the evil Baron Scarpia, who also desires Tosca and uses the situation to his advantage. You can find a full synopsis of Tosca in Wikipedia. It helped that the Baltimore Opera Company projects English surtitles on a screen above the stage; I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much if I hadn’t understood everything that was going on. The principals were outstanding, at least to my uneducated ear and eye, and when Antonello Palombi, who played Cavaradossi, sang the aria in the third act where he is writing his farewell letter to Tosca, it gave me chills.

I wasn’t the only one who was enthralled with the performance. Many of the children’s chorus parents bought tickets for the kids to see Acts 2 and 3, since the kids are only in the first act. All the children’s chorus (mostly preteens) that I could see from where I was sitting were leaning forward in their seats, totally engrossed in the show. To tie this in with children’s literature, it brings me back to the discussion about a “sense of hope” in children’s literature. Last year, J.L. Bell of Oz and Ends wrote an interesting post in which he questioned the emphasis on a sense of hope in children’s literature. Bell asked whether a sense of hope is always necessary or even appropriate in children’s books. Watching the kids last night, I would tend to agree. All the kids really seemed to enjoy the show, in spite of (or partly because of?) the tragic nature of the story. Is it really necessary for everything to have a happy ending?

I’m already eyeing the Baltimore Opera Company’s schedule for next year, wondering which ones would be good to go to. I’m really proud of David for all the hard work that he’s put into this. He and the other children did a great job. Bravo!

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