Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How it Began

Looking back over the blog, I realize I never posted the story of the role opera played in my family's history.

Basically, opera kept my grandfather of of jail.

It was 1902 in Kiev and the czarist regime had a stronghold over the land. Poverty was widespread. Living conditions were deplorable. My grandfather Aaron, about 20 years old at the time, was one of a group of revolutionaries who were convinced that socialism was the answer. They decided to infiltrate the world of the rich to let them know how things really were for the rest of the country. They printed up leaflets decrying the deplorable conditions and promoting the socialistic ideal. But how would they get their message out to the wealthy? The opera of course.

On the day of the drop the boys hid along the side of the road near the opera house, watching the wealthy patrons arrive. They had often heard the clop clop clop of the horses pulling the fancy carriages of the rich off to the Kiev Opera House, but they'd never been close enough to see the furs, jewels and fancy clothing. They knew the rich were very rich, but had had no idea such opulence even existed.

Once the street emptied they made their move. With the help of an employee, they snuck into the opera house and up to the balcony. The plan was to drop the leaflets and run. But when my grandfather Aaron heard the music he was entranced. He forgot his mission and simply stared at the stage. He was transfixed. The other young men dropped their leaflets, ran, and of course were caught and arrested. Aaron stayed for the entire opera and snuck out at the end, a changed man. Afterwards he repeatedly risked arrest by sneaking into the opera whenever he could. That may sound like no big deal, but it was a huge risk. He was so enchanted by opera that he was willing to risk his life to hear it.

Because I don’t know the exact date of the incident, I don’t know what opera was being performed. For some reason I imagine it was Madame Butterfly. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps my aunt mentioned it to me once? But there's no way to know for sure.

Aaron brought his love of opera to the United States when he moved here in the early 1900s. The family always had subscriptions to the (old) Met, and at home opera was always on the radio or phonograph. My mother, aunts and uncles always had opera playing too. Every family gathering had an opera soundtrack in the background. Not loud and in your face, but just there. I think that's why it feels so familiar and comfortable to me. Growing up, my mom always had opera playing. Certain operas or pieces of music can transport me back to my childhood. Carmen, Marriage of Figaro, Die Fledermaus... I knew these operas without realizing I knew them.

Naturally, I rejected my parents music as a teenager. After all, it was the 80s and MTV was brand-new. I still played opera games, such as pretending that life was an opera and everything had to be sung. But it wasn't until I had a child of my own that I returned to the music that was such a strong part of my childhood. And I started writing this blog soon after.

Now Alex is enthralled by opera, and while I realize that he, too, might reject it at some point during his childhood, I'm confident that when he's an adult he'll be sharing his love opera with his children. Makes me all weepy and fuzzy to think about it.

1 comment:

Banawoman said...

I love that story!