Introducing people whom I love to The Met is an item on my bucket list that I am thrilled to check off over and over again. And…it seems to be that La Boheme remains the perfect introduction when the stars are aligned. It is not difficult to see this opera at the MET as it is has played consecutively fifty-nine seasons and has only been left out of nine seasons. This past November it was performed at the Met for 1,275th time.
The first time I introduced The Met to one of my best friends was also her introduction to Opera. Not to be overshadowed by the incredibly powerful and beautiful composition of Puccini, the weather insisted on making its own music with torrential rain. I love walking in the rain, even when dressed for the Opera. But, there is rain and then there is RAIN. This rain storm was as dramatic as any scene in an opera as it was accompanied by steady wind. So…try to imagine two women dressed to the nines with umbrellas trying to make it to Lincoln Center in one piece. Luckily, we were smart enough to wear walking boots and had our dress shoes in our bags. Even luckier for me was the fact that my friend, Athena, is Greek. It takes women made of tough stock like ours to be able to tolerate the pelting rain and get to the MET with determination and a little bit of panache and actually be willing to repeat the experience. Upon arrival, the only difference between Athena and me was that she refused to change out of her boots and I insisted on putting on my evening shoes. She looked a bit odd, maybe even eccentric, in her stunning black cocktail dress sporting riding boots, but not fazed in the least. We laughed out loud when we were finally seated. It was then, I realized why I am so incredibly connected to her.
She loved the experience, all of it, or so she told me. The pelting rain, the umbrellas that blew inside out and had to be trashed along the way, the running, the laughing out loud and of course, Puccini’s powerful love story.
The first time I saw La Boheme, I realized that I was not very original as that clever young girl attempting to get the attention of an interesting, handsome man. In the third scene of Act 1, Mimi, knocks on the door of Rudolfo’s apartment looking for a light for her candle. What follows is a cat and mouse game between the two of them that took me right back to my first real interchange with the guy who was to end up becoming my husband four years later.
Mimi fell instantly in love with Rodolfo and wanted to extend her time in his apartment. As she was walking out the door, she lingered for what appeared to be on purpose and her candle went out. Conveniently, she had to come back inside for it to be re-lit. In the process, she dropped her key. He found it but pretended he didn’t. Each one purposefully extending the time they were spending together. Cute little ploys, but the arias they sing during this cat and mouse interlude are anything but cute. They are dramatic, lyrical, beautiful and magical.
Clearly, there were no arias when Jerry and I first met. We didn’t sing a single note. But we did play a game of cat and mouse, all our own. I had a ride home from the church event we were both at but I pretended I needed a ride home. He obliged. On the way to my house, he asked me if I was a good typist as he could use some help getting his term paper typed. His regular typist was unavailable, he said. Of course, I could type, I told him. I never typed ANYTHING in my life. His typist was, in fact, available. And so our story began.
This is what I love most about Opera. It is life on steroids. Throughout La Boheme, the love story of Mimi and Rudolfo weaves its way into the hearts of the audience. The love story is not perfect. It is turbulent. It is fabulous. It is heartbreaking. It is real. And in the end, Mimi dies inches away from Rudolfo. At the moment he realizes what has happened, he goes a little crazy with grief and sings out her name with such depth and power that it creates a visceral response for the listener. It has the ability to bring anyone who has been inches away from a dying person right back to that moment.
I did not belt out Jerry’s name in the hospital room when he died. But, just like Rudolfo, my heart had been seared. The cord that bound us was broken. It didn’t matter that the tie was frayed and discolored or that it was sewn together in places with threads woven in blood, sweat and tears. It was a cord that had our names engraved on it. Jerry to Valasie 5.18.1969. Valasie to Jerry 5.18.1969. I wish I was as wise in 1969 as I am now. I wish Jerry knew in 1969 what he came to realize later. However, just like Opera is life on steroids…
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”