THE FORMING OF AN OPERANUT
When we moved to the bay area in 1993, Thea and I immediately started attending operas. By our second year here we had season subscriptions to West Bay Opera, Pocket Opera, and Opera San Jose, and I did some scenery painting for WBO. We went to San Francisco Opera a few times, but soon decided that the combination of hassle getting there, high cost, and unavailability of really good seats was greater than our enjoyment of the finished product.
For the next 15 years we kept increasing the total number of performances and our enjoyment of them. At some point we joined the West Bay Opera Guild and later I became a member of the Pocket Opera Board of Directors.
During this period I frequently mentioned opera in my annual Groundhog Day Letter, commenting on particular performances I enjoyed and out-of town trips we took to see operas. However, in 2008 I decided that writing that annual letter was becoming more of a chore and less of a pleasure, so that outlet was no longer available.
In the 2007-8 opera season I discovered the MetHD program of showing High-Definition, Wrap-around-Sound, Live opera performances at select movie theaters. I finally got to go to one – Daughter of the Regiment – and I was hooked. It was a wonderful way to experience opera. A month later, in May 2008, I saw the MetHD production of La Bohème and I came away with such a mixture of strong feelings about it that I simply had to write them down to clear my own mind. Having written my first Opera Commentary, it then seemed reasonable to email it to some of my opera-loving friends and family.
I didn’t get a lot of feedback, but what I got was favorable, and a couple of people even said that my commentary influenced their decision about going to the Encore. These early commentaries were mostly for MetHD performances, but also included local live opera companies and some European HD’s.
Now for the other thread. This one starts with my former career as a Professor of Mechanics and involves two other men with the same title: Charles who is semi-retired from Stanford, and Leon who is still active at Northwestern. Charles and I are very close friends and frequently attend operas together – he is, of course, on my Opera Commentary list and appears to like what I write.
I had not had any contact with Leon since I retired, but he and Charles frequently saw each other, particularly when Leon was at Stanford for an extended period last year. One evening at dinner, Leon’s wife Barbara was talking about her job as an Editor of Splash Magazine and mentioned that she was looking for someone to write opera reviews for the San Francisco area. Charles’ face lit up as he said, “I’ve got just the person for you; I’ll see if he’s interested.”
I was, so Charles introduced us via email (Barbara was back in Chicago by now) and we started negotiating. Barbara basically said, “I like what you’ve written, so just write what you want and when you want. But there are a few rules. The most important one is that the article must be entered into our program called Article Manager in a certain format. I’ll do the first few for you, but eventually you should learn how to do it.”
She linked me to a manual which described all the things I had to do in a few dozen abstrusely-written pages. I said, “No way am I going to learn this stuff. I need help.” My granddaughter April volunteered, and the team of Philip, Barbara, and April starting churning out SPLASH reviews under the pen name