It's been a couple of months since I updated. But I feel like since I'm frequenting other people's blogs (mostly food and fashion!), I should at least oblige with some posts of my own.
I decided recently to re-read some books from my childhood. I was pretty precocious--I started reading when I was three or four, and never stopped. One of my very favorites was Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace--and, since it gets a shout-out in You've Got Mail ("In the second book, we meet Tib, whose real name, I'm sorry to say, is Thelma."), I thought I'd start there. What I discovered, happily, is that there are actually ten books in the series, not just the first two that I read when I was little.
The town of Deep Valley, circa 1906, where Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly (and all of their friends) live and go to school, is a beautiful place. It's a place where little girls can take their dinner plates outside and picnic on top of the hill, where an encampment of Syrian immigrants turns out to be home to a true-blue princess, where the snow is deep and pure, where everybody and anybody stops by the Ray home on Sunday nights for sandwiches and coffee, and where--and this is my favorite part--everyone and everything seems to sing.
Seriously. From the start, Betsy and Tacy are making up songs--most memorably, the one about Milwaukee and how exotic it must be. At Betsy's birthday party, chapter two of Betsy-Tacy, Lovelace notes that Mrs. Ray loves more than anything to play the piano. Betsy and Tacy sing what I'm hoping is Rossini's Cat Duet in a school assembly one year--and then every year after that. Shy Tacy even sings a solo at Rhetoricals, the yearly competition between Philomathians and Zetamathians, the school societies. Every time Betsy and her friends get together, they sing all the old songs, and the new songs, and songs that Betsy made up.
And then there is Julia, Betsy's older sister, who longs to be an opera singer, spends all of her allowance on opera scores (her favorite is La Boheme, and "Si, mi chiamano Mimi"), and constantly brings home beaux who sing duets with her. Even Betsy's friends come by to sing with Julia around the Ray family piano. And in Betsy in Spite of Herself, book six, Mr. Ray splurges on a trip to St. Paul for Mrs. Ray and Julia to see Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar sing Grand Opera. It's magical. When she sings or sees opera, Julia is rapturous, enthralled, carried away. She even forgets about her beaux--"Harry? Who's Harry?"--in the thrill of hearing glorious singing.
Somebody posted a query recently on the New Forum for Classical Singers, wondering, "Do you guys enjoy opera?" The answers are fascinating. Some people are obsessed with opera--they love to perform it, they love to see it, they spend all of their time learning about it and listening to it. Others love to sing it, but consider it to be more of a job than a passion. And others, like the original poster, decided that they didn't love it enough to pursue it as a career. I myself love some operas and dislike others; when I go to see an opera, I often fall asleep. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I don't listen to complete operas very often, mostly just arias or ensembles that I like. I like to think that I'm pretty knowledgeable about the repertoire, but I don't feel the need to know everything about every opera ever written. I think there is nothing in the world like great operatic singing, but half the time I would rather listen to musical theater.
But is this enough? Can we forge careers as opera singers without Julia's all-consuming passion for the art-form? With all of our internet access, Youtube videos, summer programs, classes and workshops, we know much more than Julia did about what it takes to become an opera singer. At every turn, we have people telling us that if we could be happy doing anything else, we should do that instead. Before we even start singing opera, we start wondering if we should be singing opera. I love opera, but really, I just want to sing. It bothers me when my teacher says, offhand, "I'm glad you don't want to do musical theater." Because I love musical theater, and I love operetta, and grand opera, and jazz and folk music and choral music. We are all SO serious. We worry that we're singing the wrong arias, that we should have high notes or low notes or a stronger middle register, and in worrying, we make ourselves crazy and don't sound as good as we could. I sound best when I'm tired and I can't get in my own way so much.
What I like best about the Deep Valley set-up is that everybody just SINGS. Julia is the exception, not the rule. The joy that Lovelace's whole cast of characters gets from singing leaps off the page and makes me smile. Tacy goofily sings tenor at a picnic, Betsy sings alto and slides up to the soprano part (and nobody cares), the girls walk arm in arm singing songs at the top of their voices, and everybody gathers around the piano on Sunday nights to sing old songs together.