A night at the opera -- 03/05/07

Yesterday was notable for two things -- I ran in my first race of the year and Nancy & I went to an opera performance last night for the first time in ages and ages.

The race was the Kelley's Pace March Hare Hop in Mystic, Connecticut. The official race starter was, of course, John J. Kelley (running fans will probably recognize him as "John Kelley the Younger" -- winner of the Boston Marathon in 1957, setting a course record, and a two-time U.S. Olympic runner.) Naturally the official starter pistol wouldn't fire. Mr. Kelley tried repeatedly and then one of the race timing officials tried and he couldn't get it to fire either so the race was started by shouting "Go!" (About twenty-five seconds into the race, as runners are well on their way down the course, we heard a gun shot as they finally got the pistol to fire -- and various runners yelled "Run! They're shooting at us!" *grin*)

I first ran this race in 1997 with Jill. (She didn't run it this year because it would have meant giving up a day of time-and-a-half pay.) It was briskly cold that year and snow flurries were falling as we ran the course. A few days after that race I went to Australia on a business trip and, two weeks after running a race in the mid-twenties, I found myself running a 5K in a Sydney suburb in summertime heat and sunshine. Quite a contrast in weather.

One of the things I am now trying to do is to get back into running. I've been doing very little running in recent months -- I don't think I've run more than fifteen miles total since running the usual Thanksgiving morning five-miler. In fact, on Friday I was thinking that I might skip the March Hare Hop this year -- but slacking off like that would not be a very good start on reviving my running. The problem is that the workouts I've been doing (riding an exercise bike, lifting weights, doing rows and leg lifts) is not exactly the same as running, not using the same muscle groups in the same way. I set out to test this by running one mile loops of the neighborhood around sunset on Friday. Halfway into the first mile I was convinced that I couldn't do it, but I kept going... and, eventually, I completed three laps and survived, so I headed off to Mystic on Sunday. I survived the run (actually had a good time doing it) -- there were far more people who finished ahead of me than finished behind me, but at least there were a few people behind me.

Now that spring is almost here (well, it will be after we get through the near-arctic cold temperatures predicted for this week) I've got to make sure I get in a lot of running each week. Jill and I want to run the James Joyce Ramble 10K run at the end of April up in Dedham, Mass. We ran it in 2005 and had a good time. (The only problem is that I will be spending the week leading up to the race at a week-long technical conference in Las Vegas.) This is the race where they have costumed actors along the course reading out loud from the works of James Joyce. I had two entries about it in 2005 -- one about the race and then one with photographs.

Incestuous lust. Rape. Fratricide. Insurrection.

Yes, I must either be talking about opera or Biblical tales.

Actually both... about an opera that is based on a Biblical story.

It was a new opera (a world premiere, in fact) of Tamar -- music by composer Eliane Aberdam and libretto by poet Maurya Simon -- presented in concert format (i.e., no stage settings, no costumes, no dramatic action, the singers just stand there and sing) with music by a seven piece chamber ensemble. But that's really the heart of opera, the music and the singing. There is something magical about the voice of a trained operatic singer.

In my younger days I was not much of an opera fan. All I knew of it was what I would hear on radio and television -- low fidelity audio, no richness, no power, no life. Then one day friends dragged me to a workshop performance by
members of the marvelous Tri-Cities Opera that was held in their rehearsal studio -- a collection of arias from various operas -- no sets, bare stage, singers in semi-costumes (not full costume, just a few items to suggest a character), audience seated on folding chairs -- and then the first singer came out on the stage and began to sing and I was in awe of the power and the beauty of her voice. I had never experienced anything like that and I was hooked. The Tri-Cities Opera is a highly respected regional opera company that has been around for half a century or more. When Nancy and I were first married and when the kids were little, we used to have season subscriptions to the opera but as the kids got older we were less inclined to get a sitter. We frequently brought them to plays with us but not operas, so some years we might attend one opera and some years not at all. (You know how it goes, you get busy with stuff and then with other stuff, and next thing you know, years have gone by...) As Jill got older -- 7th grade I think -- I did bring her to see La bohème... but then we moved to Rhode Island. So this is the first opera we've attended since we moved. It has served to remind me of what I've been missing since those days when we used to catch three operas every year..

Tamar is based on the Biblical story of King David and his children. David's son Amnon lusts for his half-sister Tamar. He tricks her into coming to his room, bringing him cakes because she believes he is ill. He rapes her and then throws her out. Absalom (after the passage of some time, which I failed to understand in both the opera and the Biblical version) has Amnon killed and is exiled by David. Absolom raises an army, invades, and is killed. Sad arias. Final sad chorus. Beautiful voices. The part of King David was sung by baritone Rene de la Garza, a rich and powerful voice and Tamar was sun by Norma Caiazza -- and oh my what a beautiful and thrillingly powerful voice she has! I see that they are both going to be singing later this month at the Courthouse Center for the Arts. I think we're going to have to try to fit that into our schedule.

I'm afraid that at heart I'm someone who prefers 19th century music to 21st century music, but I'm sure glad that Nancy happened to notice an article in the newspaper about Tamar.

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