This week’s Monday Memory is from Untours staffer and mezzo-soprano extraordinaire Ellen Peters.
In 1984, I was a 14 year old brat who insisted on hating opera. My dad enjoyed it and therefore it was just not cool. That year I was accepted into All-State Chorus in NJ. The grand finale of the concert was the chorus “Va, pensiero” from the opera Nabucco. I learned it, memorized it and fell deeply in love with it. That was my gateway into a lifelong love of opera.
Four years later, in 1988, as a traveling college student, I found myself alone in Verona. When I discovered that the evening’s opera at the famous 15,000 seat Roman outdoor Arena amphitheatre that night was Nabucco, I immediately bought a ticket from a shady scalper. I have no recollection of how many lire I spent. This photo was taken on that day.
If you’ve never heard of “Va, pensiero” or the opera Nabucco, they have been iconic to Italians for over a century. It is widely accepted that when a fragmented Italy was occupied by the Austrians in the mid 19th century, Verdi wrote this opera as a thinly veiled metaphor of their plight. In the third act, the Hebrew refugees on stage sing a lush and gorgeous chorus:
Fly, thought, on wings of gold;
go settle upon the slopes and the hills,
where, soft and mild, the sweet airs
of our native land smell fragrant!
When the chorus on stage at the arena finished their rendition, the Italian conductor turned to the audience and invited us to sing along with the encore. I stood and sang every syllable, much to the enjoyment of the local opera lovers surrounding me, who only knew the first few lines.
Twenty five long years later, in 2013, I’m in a professional opera chorus (yes, of course my dad was pleased with my chosen trajectory.) This year Opera Philadelphia splurged on a 72 member professional, union opera chorus to put on the grand opera, rarely seen in the US.
In rehearsals, I found that I still had every word of the chorus memorized. I sat in a room surrounded by the luxurious sonorousness of this amazing group, as they went through the normal routine of memorization. I found my thoughts drifting, or flying, back to the stages of my life where this chorus has surfaced. I am a very lucky mezzo-soprano.
Thanks to Ellen for sharing her wonderful memory!
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