The Problem with Loving Opera
I still remember that listening to a recording of Birgit Nilsson in Turandot, played on radio, sealed the deal. The music by Puccini was beautiful and so was her voice. When I think of Ms. Nilsson even now, the word that pops in my head is crystal; her voice has a purity that reminds me of crystal. I was hooked on opera. And I wanted to share this new love. This proved more difficult than I had imagined. I found that if I started a conversation about opera around the coffee pot at work, soon it was just me and the coffee pot. Most of my family and friends, on learning of my new interest, assumed this too would pass. Not only did most of my friends, colleagues, and family not share my enjoyment of opera, they looked on opera with disdain at worst and bafflement in general at how anyone could actually like opera. It was okay for those who want to appear high brow, but really like and enjoy it? Come on. A few family members, though, also shared an enjoyment of opera. This at least spared me attending operas alone. But however the change was effected, for me and to their consternation, it seems to be permanent.
A Good Example
This experience reminded me of a time when we had three cats, Gremlin, Junior, and Mr. Rags. Gremlin had an eccentricity: he loved popcorn. When he heard the kernels hit the pan, he would come running. It was fun to toss a few popped kernels and watch him run them down. Junior and Mr. Rags had no interest. Initially we put down bowls of popcorn for all three cats, but whereas Gremlin devoured and relished his bowl of popcorn, the other two wandered over, took a look, gave a sniff, then walked away. Once we stopped putting down bowls for them, they would occasionally be provoked by Gremlin’s enthusiasm enough to again check out what was in his bowl. They would look in the bowl and then glance at Gremlin and then look at my wife and I, as if to ask whether their cat colleague was a little off, if you know what they mean. But for Gremlin popcorn was pure joy. He had the popcorn gene; they did not. So it is with opera: you love it or you can’t understand why anyone would.
Why the Name
I started to formulate plans for developing an opera blog at the beginning of 2015. My first thought was to call it OperaCats, but that domain was taken and on reflection I decided to be more direct and (here comes my background) more scientific. My search found few mentions of opera and genes on the internet. While I was working on developing the OperaGene concept, Steve Kohn published a post on the LA Opera blog (http://blog.laopera.org/my-love-of-opera-gene/) in which he states that his grandmother insisted that he got his “love of opera gene” from his grandfather. I know of no one in my family background who carried the love of opera gene, at least not from known phenotypes (a phenotype is the observable characteristics of a person related to their genetic makeup).
For me, however, opera is captivating and beautiful. I honestly can say that I love it. I cannot imagine why anyone would not love an opera aria like “D’amor sull”ali rosee” from Verdi’s Il Trovatore sung by a really good soprano. Undoubtedly, I have the opera gene, one with a late onset, but there nonetheless. It set me thinking how to share this love of opera, how to connect with others who carry the opera gene. I am taking poetic license in using the term gene in this way. My more scientific readers will know that love of opera could be an environmentally conditioned response and not genetic or both, and if genetic, almost certainly a constellation of gene types and not a single gene. So be it. But “opera gene” is a convenient parking place for all that love and interest in opera encompasses, and so OperaGene is born as my way to share a love of opera. I guess if I am taking artistic license with the scientific term, gene, I must have an artistic side as well. My intent for OperaGene is to initiate a community of opera lovers to talk about and expand our knowledge and appreciation of opera.