Better Late than Never
“For your 16th birthday, I’ll take you to the opera,” my father told the three-year-old towhead girl whirling around the living room with a handkerchief in her hand, mimicking the sounds and movements of La Bohème on the snowy TV-screen. With only four channels to choose from, Chrissy usually selected channel 13, the local PBS channel. On the nights when Live at the Met was on, she joined the stage festivities twirling in the living room and turning it into her own stage, mesmerized by every aspect of the opera.
Thirty-five years have gone by since my father passed away. I was only
fourteen years old when I lost him, so I never had the chance to go on that opera date with him. In fact, I have never gone to an opera performance at all – until today as a chaperone with my 12-year-old son.
Boarding the bus for the hour and 20 minute ride to downtown Richmond, I took my place among the other chaperones and middle school students. Knowing that my son is quickly approaching that age when I will no longer be a welcome addition in his social life, I relish these last few times that he asks me to join him on trips, as I know this will soon end. As we start the long drive down the interstate, my mind wandered to memories of my dad, his great sense of humor, and his birthday promise to me. I could feel the lump in my throat, and the tear trying to form at the corner of my eye, when my son’s hearty laugh from the seat behind me broke through my lamenting for a memory unrealized, and the sadness that was creeping in was single-handedly shattered with the happiness in his voice. He and his friends were busily exchanging electronic devices and game cheat codes, the virtual world that eclipses so much of their reality.
Arriving at the Carpenter Theatre, we exited our yellow “limousine” and headed toward our venue. The theatre itself is such a
spectacular building, an absolute festival for the eyes. It was recently renovated and updated, returning it to the splendor when it was first built in 1928. My first visit to the Carpenter Center was 21 years ago, when I introduced my oldest to theatre attendance and the Nutcracker, at probably about the same time of year. The architecture, especially the entryway, still takes my breath away.
Virginia Opera hosts a program known as Student Afternoon at the Opera, which is the perfect opportunity for introducing children to the opera. We began the afternoon in a lower level classroom, where we were given a brief introduction to the story, some of the well known arias and characters, as well as an explanation of what to expect during the performance.
As we entered the theatre and approached our seats, we were only four rows from the stage. I walked down toward the orchestra pit to get some photos, not realizing my son followed me as he’d been a bit standoffish earlier on this excursion, the beginning of the “not-cool-bringing-Mom-on-a-field-trip” era. As we stood there by the pit, we talked about the different instruments in the orchestra for the performance. He pointed out his instrument, the oboe, and I asked if he had ever thought of moving to the
bassoon as he got older, pointing out these instrumentalists seated behind the two oboists. As we chatted, Michael standing there in his dress shirt and tie, I realized I was getting a glimpse of my handsome eldest son in his soon to be adult form, and it warmed my heart and at the same time made me so grateful for this fleeting shared moment in his last few years of childhood.
I shared with him the story of my first time in this theater, bringing his now 26 year-old sister to see The Nutcracker performed by the Richmond Ballet when she was only five years old. I told him how she was riveted by the lavish scenery and set design. She pointed out the ornate detail of each prop (who knew then that one day she would minor in Theatre Design), and how she stood in almost the exact same spot with me looking down at the orchestra pit 21 years earlier. A gentle smile crossed his face at this now shared memory.
We took our seats, and settled in to wait for the performance to begin. Light brightened his young eyes as he caught a glimpse of the ceiling. “That is awesome!” he exclaimed as he glanced above us, and then began
snapping picture after picture of the theater interior. A smile lit my heart, “This is the joy my father wanted to experience with me,” I thought as I watched awe fill his
The lights dimmed. Music began to waft over the edge of the orchestra pit. My camera quickly found its way to my small evening bag, as we leaned back in our seats for the performance, and what a performance it was! From the moment the singers entered the stage, the audience was mesmerized by their ability to transport us all to a different time and place. Being a comedy, each time I found humor in something, I would glance over at Michael to see if he was chuckling as well. Often, his laugh would pierce through my hypnotic gaze at the stage, making me look his way to see his joy. Every so often, he would lean his head on my arm, and I would delight in this moment to hold my little boy again, leaning my cheek on the crown of his head, my arm draping over his shoulder, letting every nuance of this moment wash over me.
My first visit to the opera was all I had hoped for and more. For 34
years, I have lamented my father passing before he and I could visit the opera together, feeling robbed of a promised memory that I had waited for since I was three. Yet, like so many other events in my life – there was different plan than that which I had for myself, that which I thought was meant to happen. A different road I was meant to take. Instead, I had the great joy and pleasure of being there for my son’s first introduction to opera, watching the magic of a live performance transform my young son of the digital age with wonder.
As we left the theatre that evening to return home, Michael caught a beautiful image of the sun setting behind the city skyline. Something tells me my Dad was there as well, with his arm encircling my Mom, whispering “well done” across the evening sky.
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