RAMONA ON CORONA and….Opera for the Soul

A humor series on navigating this difficult time

I’m sharing another installment of a humor series from my friend Pam Goldman, centering on a woman named Ramona, who tries to help… in her own way. If you’re new to this series: Here’s the previous installment. 

I know. You hate opera. I did too. BUT PLEASE DON’T STOP READING THIS COLUMN! I dare you to hear me out because for most of my life I thought opera was a giant snooze and I thought opera lovers were from another planet, but let me tell you something you may not want to hear because it will unsettle old assumptions (I hope), that change is never easy, old habits die hard and a million other evergreen excuses and blah, blah, blah. I get it. I was you!

First, let me ask you a question and you don’t have to answer it out loud because you are there and I am here. Just answer this in your head. Did you listen to Amanda Gorman recite her poem The Hill We Climb at the Biden inauguration? What I mean is, did you hear it?

Because if you did, you had to be moved, even transported, if you are human. 

Like me, you may have surrendered to your tear ducts spilling liquid love down your cheeks as Amanda performed and gestured with hands like a butterfly. That’s what art does. And not only that. Art that is a shared experience, whether by hundreds in a Broadway theater or by thousands at a Springsteen concert, or by millions watching a young Poet Laureate at an Inaugural ceremony on T.V.….touches countless beating hearts all at the same time. Isn’t that magical? Even miraculous?! 

This is what artists do. They put us in touch with our common humanity. They express emotions and aspirations and dreams and challenges that are far too big for civilian expression. That’s why there are poets and dancers and artists and actors and musicians and writers. They have the gifts and the tools and the will to tackle the big stuff for which mere words are insufficient. 

I cry at the beauty of the ballet. There is nothing that compares to it in real life. Is it intentionally more beautiful so we can appreciate the real beauty in life? I stand before Monet’s Water Lilies because he put on canvas more beauty than could ever exist. Artists make the beauty that is all around us bolder because that is the only way we’ll pay rapt attention to our stunning world and to our stunning selves. 

Street photographers do it. They see a child waiting patiently at a bus stop holding a parent’s hand, looking up at them with eyes that say, “You have all the answers.” Snap! That photo will register a moment in time that is timeless. Art! 

I was rendered speechless, my heart full to bursting on seeing my first play off-Broadway in 1962 at the Sheridan Square Playhouse (The Days and Nights of BeeBee Fenstermaker). I can say the same for last night when I watched a virtual concert by Metropolitan Opera stars Piotr Beczała and Sondra Radvanovsky. Their intensity had me transfixed for an hour and a half, their voices so powerful I nearly fell off my sofa! And during what other lifetime was I ever going to see a performance in a concert hall in Wuppertal, Germany? My laptop is my best friend in the time of Covid.

Opera is yet one more cultural touchstone if you’re willing to give it a chance. Think of it this way. Musicians have instruments, artists have canvas and paint, but opera singers are the instruments, using all that is in them to unearth and share the full range of human emotion. Like actors they have props and costumes and directors, but it is their singular humanity laid bare on stage before us. These are brave people, folks! 

Sondra, the soprano, took my breath away not only with her singing, but with her porcelain skin and delicate gestures, not to mention her ability to move about the empty concert hall without tripping over her floor length gown or looking uncomfortable in undergarments that, if they weren’t Spanx, had to be the kind she couldn’t wait to squeeze out of. 

They sang arias and duets throughout the program, taking turns taking the stage. I didn’t understand a word but that’s what the subtitles are for. The angst was mostly about love and whether she loved him, or whether she was unable to love him and would choose to die rather than not love him sufficiently. Whatever…they were both very upset. They came close to kissing a couple of times but didn’t actually kiss until very near the end. I wondered if they sneaked Tic Tacs between arias to keep their breath fresh.

Discovering opera later in life may be a plus because now I can relate to out-sized emotions. All my emotions seem to be out-sized these days, all my feelings deepened over time. Of course, that’s also true for the bags under my eyes and the lines on my forehead. Could these be signs of early onset wisdom?! I must ask my geriatrician.☺ 

If you think life is boring or mundane during these Covid-isolating times, please try opera. These characters’ lives are the opposite of boring, trust me. They have more agita than you can imagine. 

And afterward, I think you’ll feel like you can face your day without throwing yourself on the floor like they do when things don’t quite work out.

Maybe you’ll try the next one? Live in concert, Anna Netrebko, MET megastar soprano, performs from Vienna’s Spanish Riding School. LIVE STREAMING Sat. Feb.6 @ 1pm (ET)

Tickets online are $20. and the performance streams for 14 days. 

Just sayin’.