Essays and Stories

How to Enjoy Opera
People who grew up with popular music are often at a loss when it comes to opera. “What is she doing behind the horse?” and “I can’t get past the ear pain” are the kind of comments often heard from opera-phobes.

Cultivating a love of opera begins by understanding its origins. Opera was invented by medieval European monarchs who wanted elaborate after dinner distractions to help disguise the noise of their stomach distress from overeating as well as the occasional flaying of commoners. The monarchs asked their court composers to come up with something loud, long, inscrutable, and if all else failed, to march out the army in muppet costumes. Many other ancient art forms born from less inspiration endure today. Consider the Ice Capades. The Ice Capades began when early farmers had to cross frozen lakes in winter to reach their fields and held onto the tails of cows to steady themselves. The cows would become frightened and let go of their bowels. The farmers would dance wildly to avoid the bovine barrage and eventually someone set the whole thing to pop music.

Opera novices will find that learning something about the underlying story can enhance their enjoyment. For example, consider Mozart’s classic tale of the Magic Flute. The Magic Flute showcases some classic plot elements of this timeless art form: a gay prince, a gay serpent, a gay bird catcher who dresses in feathers — except for winter formals, some handsome slaves, a Queen of the Night, bondage, a priest (not what you are thinking,) secret initiation rites (“Oh Isis and Osiris!”,) and lovely silver bells with matching candlesticks. Oh, and a flute. I won’t spoil the ending for you except to say that it involves a happy couple moving into a very well decorated bird’s nest.

Opera has a vocabulary all it’s own. There are a few terms the opera novice should be familiar with:

Goetterdaemmerung: this is the sound an opera director makes when he hears a new opera for the first time.

Bass: the lowest male voice. A bass performer can often be identified by a large “fish-in-the-pants.”

Basso buffo: false six-pack abs worn by a leading man.

Canzone: opera people are big and often chow down on these traditional delicacies after a tiring performance. You can buy them in the frozen food section next to the cavatinas.

Sotto voce: a director will often ask a performer to sing “under the voice” or sometimes even “under the influence.” Singing sotto voce can be compared to “whistling Dixie” from an alternate orifice and can be very effective in a large theater.

Spinto: a kind of voice which is “pushed” through a constriction or “spincter.”

Many people are surprised to learn that operas have a beginning, middle and end. “Can I leave now?” is often heard in darkened opera halls from neophytes who who think that musical theater is about having a fun night out. Don’t let their comments concern you. There is a natural fear of being played the fool when three hours have passed, the muppet people on stage have barely moved, and no one has died in a car crash or gotten laid. The Friends of Opera, or the Dixie Whistlers as they are often called, publish opera guides with tips for those who are new to the art form. For example, some enthusiasts find singing along often helps their enjoyment and that of those around them. If you do not know all the words, ululating, like an Arab woman expressing grief, can fill in the gaps. A new opera buff reported that she even attracted the attention of the stars while singing along in this manner at a recent performance.

If I haven’t yet convinced you yet of the joys of opera, perhaps an illustration may help you decide. Consider the story of three friends, a psychologist, a judge and a fraternity member who went together to the opera for the first time. As they were leaving the theater after the show the psychologist said, ” I loved the Nietzschean emphasis on the absurd and the strong Jungian sub-text.” The judge said, “I enjoyed the morality play and the prototypical struggle between good and evil.” The fraternity member replied, “Did you see the hooters on that she-male?”

Indeed, opera has something for everyone who is willing to put aside their fears, as well as anything they may know about entertainment.

The Corona Diaries — A Short, Short Story
Kathilda watched the needle move into position to penetrate her eyeball. She knew she had to be awake for the procedure. There was no other way. The millions of nanoparticle antennae being injected into her ocular fluid had to be linked with the brain chip and monitored during injection to avoid over treatment. The margin was very narrow: too little and no x-ray or gamma ray vision. Too much and she was blind with no way back.

“No. Wait!”

“We told you everybody reaches this stage. You have to push through it.”

“Fuck you, I want out. Now!”

As she watched the needle retract into the cage at the end of the machine’s robotic arm, Kathilda began to see new shapes shimmer into being in the operating room. The medical devices and monitors all appeared normal but pale shadows inside the bodies of the nurses and her surgeon began to surface.

“Oh. My. God.”

“What is happening, Kathilda?”

“I can see your brain. It’s beautiful!”

A slivery, white sea creature swam inside the head of Dr. Mathers. It moved with her, coral-like in its innocent majesty.

“You asshole! You did it anyway!”

“The human mind cannot accept this type of bodily insult while it happens so we have to time shift you. The procedure happened while you believed you were living in the world of thirty seconds earlier. The brain chip does the time shift and also the jump ahead after its over.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because if the mind knows ahead of time, it somehow compensates. We aren’t sure how.”

As Kathilda rubbed her sore neck she noticed, beneath the all-business demeanor, Dr. Mathers was hiding something. Kathilda could make out the soft outlines of breast implants beneath Dr. Mathers surgical scrubs. This new world would take some getting used to.