Opera is so elitist. Only the rich can afford it, only the snobby go. It's not for your average, everyday joe. Right?
Wrong. So, so wrong.
Today, after lunch, my husband and I stopped off at JoeBot's for a coffee, before heading home to rest up for tonight's performance of The Most Happy Fella at Tulsa Opera. JoeBot's is right down the street from the Performing Arts Center, and throughout the rehearsal process, my colleagues and I have been in a number of times. I think the second time I went in, the baristas knew my name. And we rustled up some free tickets to the dress rehearsal for them --- I don't know if they came or not, but I hope they did.
There was a young woman sitting at the counter, and she quickly struck up a conversation with me, asking where I was from. I always tell people I'm in town to sing opera --- I love to be an ambassador for my art, and you never know where you're going to find, or help create, a fan. Never once, when I have mentioned that I am an opera singer, has there been anything less than an excited and positive reaction. It's never ambivalent. People think it's cool. And it is!
This young woman --- turns out her name was Talisa --- was VERY excited. She said she loved opera, though she had never been to one. So, I started telling her all about the show, and when it was, and inviting her to come. Talisa said she was from Gulfport, Mississippi, and was just in town for a couple of days. Today is her birthday, and she drove up with a friend to visit with other friends. So, I offered to sing Happy Birthday to her.
You'd think she had won the lottery. She was genuinely excited. Her friend came in from next door and asked to video tape it. The baristas voluntarily turned off the music; I put my arm around Talisa, and her friend got out her IPhone and video'd while I let fly.
First, Talisa's eyes got huge. And then, about two notes in, she started crying. Full-out sobbing, hands over her face, shoulders shaking. The human voice is a powerful thing and operatic voices are LOUD. It's kind of overwhelming if you haven't been up close and personal with one, and although I was taking care not to shout in her ear, I know from experience that a big, resonant voice right next to you is pretty visceral. Talisa would glance at me, then she'd have to cover her face again.
When I was done, she kept right on sobbing for what seemed like a really long time. I myself was shaking because of the power of Talisa's emotion. I hugged her and rubbed her shoulders. When she finally could speak, she gave me a huge hug and said,"That was beautiful! You have such range! Your voice is so powerful! "
What was powerful, to me, was that connection we made through music; and the ability to make someone else so happy with such an easy, quick, little thing. It really doesn't take a lot, does it? Just friendliness -- which Talisa initiated, by chatting me up in such a charming way -- and the willingness to take a moment out of your day.
What a gift my new friend gave me. I flatter myself that she will remember this birthday for the rest of her life, but so will I. Talisa, with her visceral reaction and genuine appreciation of a simple gift of music, made my day too. People like Talisa are one very important reason that I do what I do.
When I go out on the stage to take a curtain call, I always make it a point to direct my smile to the cheap seats as well as the orchestra and the boxes. When someone in the grocery aisle or shoe store or coffee shop says, "Wow, you're an opera singer? Sing something for me!" I always do. (Once a hotel manager gave me a round of drinks and a free meal for singing "O mio babbino caro" in a bar after a concert of Cavalleria Rusticana. The folks in the bar recognized me and asked me to sing something, and I just picked something I thought they'd know --- even though it's not something I'd normally sing! The guests loved it and we all had a great time.) I never mind when a company asks me to sing at a party or fundraiser. This is what I love to do, and more importantly, I love to be an ambassador for my art form!
I don't know if Talisa and her friend will make it to the opera this weekend, but wherever they are, I hope they're having a great time. Happy Birthday, Talisa from Gulfport, Mississippi, and thank you so much for the wonderful gift you gave me today.