Bel Canto

Virginia Zeani as Violetta

When I was seventeen my Grandpa got us tickets to the opera. The night started with pastrami at a real live deli where he let me order extra pickles. After the cured meat we made our way to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. The venue was all red curtains and hushed voices. We sat at the edge of the balcony overlooking the stage below.

The lights dimmed and the first act of La Traviata begin. At the time I didn't know I was watching Verdi's masterpiece. I didn't know that it offended morality police when it first spread itself across a stage in 1853. I didn't know that the part of Violetta is opera's most coveted role.

I just knew it had changed me.

The actors and actresses sang color into that darkened theater. The words were foreign, but the emotion was all too human, all too familiar. I wiped tears from my face and my grandpa harrumphed next to me.

At one point in her anguish, Violetta threw herself upon the stage floor. She sang into the crowded theater like she was truly alone. Her voice lifted and she pounded one fist into the floor. And in that moment, I could see through her eyes, could feel that cold stage against my hand, could sense the deep lament of a lost love stir in my throat. For just an instant I was her.

In that big space with my lovely grandpa I learned an important lesson. Every story, even that of a doomed 19th century courtesan, is our story. A piece of each of us is woven into each heartbreak, triumph, loss and ever after. They belong to us and we belong to them.

God bless the storytellers, God bless the storymakers, God bless the opera.