My most vivid memories of my grandmother are of her baking bread on the weekends while listening to whatever opera was being broadcast on the radio that day.
The first opera I ever saw performed live was Puccini’s La Boheme at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Puccini’s music is incomparable. Maybe it was the beauty of Puccini, maybe it was hearing Tosca from the time I was “yay high.” Whatever the reason, I’ve taken to opera.
My husband does not feel the same way. He’s a good sport, however, and I can usually rope him into one or two operas per year. Last year it was Aida and Marriage of Figaro, the year before Tosca and Paggliaci. Last night it was Verdi’s Il Trovatore. We started the night at Bahn Thai. Practically across the street from the opera, Bahn Thai is a cute little Thai house with good food and good service. There is nothing spectacular about Bahn Thai’s offerings except that it is consistently good and consistently packed pre-Opera, ballet or theater (make reservations on theater nights). We ordered Salmon Plik King, Chicken Panang and Pork Fried Rice.
The panang was thick and spicy. The salmon was sweeter but remarkably good for likely farm-raised Atlantic salmon (living in Seattle you quickly become a salmon snob).
After Thai, we headed across the road to watch Il Trovatore. The plot of Il Trovatore is one of the things I love about opera – it is completely INSANE. In sum, a gypsy woman is burned at the stake when one of the Count’s two sons becomes ill after she looks at him (seriously). Her daughter, wanting to avenge her mother, kidnaps the Count’s son and plans to throw him in the fire consuming her mother too, but oops, she pushes her own son in instead. She then raises the Count’s son, Manrico, as her own. Fast-forward 15 years and the Count’s other son is now Count and he and Manrico are both in love with Leonora. Leonora is in love with Manrico and the Count, who is completely obsessed, is not pleased, to put it mildly. Battles ensue. Leonora believes Manrico is dead and so vows to become a nun, but he pops up in time to steal her away before she takes her vows (the Count is also on hand to try to kidnap Leonora). Leonora and Manrico wed. Despite the fact that Leonora would rather become a nun than be with the Count he continues to pursue her and more battles ensue. The Count manages to capture Manrico’s gypsy “mother” and plans to burn her at the stake when he finds out his rival, Manrico, is her son. Manrico and his men go to save her and are captured. With his men hanging above the stage, Leonora goes to rescue Manrico. She offers herself to the Count in exchange for Manrico’s life and then poisons herself (the poison is incredibly slow-acting). She then goes to free Manrico and dies in his arms. The Count kills Manrico in revenge and when he’s dead, the gypsy woman tells the Count he’s just killed his brother. The curtain closes with the gypsy woman screaming the equivalent of “VENGEANCE IS MINE!” Seriously. I am not making this up. All of this melodrama is set to beautiful, melodic Italian (translated by Bruce Lee movie style subtitles).If you’re in the Seattle area, a trip to the Seattle Opera is a must because the caliber of the performances is on par with the Met (most of the singers have sung at La Scala and other renowned international opera houses at one time or another). If you’re not and don’t have a local opera company, the Met broadcasts their operas live at movie theaters periodically. Love it or hate it, opera should be experienced at least once for the sheer insanity of the stories and the beauty of the music. My favorites are Puccini, although nothing beats Tosca throwing herself off the battlements.