05 April 2013

The Haushofmeister’s Diary, Part 1

The site of the Goliad Opera House.

Few people realize that Goliad, Texas, once boasted an opera house. By modern definitions, this was really a vaudeville or music hall, but the good people of Goliad called it an opera house, and I am not going to argue with them. The building was dedicated in 1909 (if memory serves), but torn down a long time ago. A pavement marker remained until recently, when an access ramp took its place.

Much of Texas has had an ambivalent relationship with opera. It’s so BIG, and ’round here, we do like everything big. Opera is also an opportunity to dress up and show off, which Texans (in Dallas particularly) also like to do. But opera is very often foreign, and depending when you ask, Texans aren’t sure how they feel about that.

It makes sense to start here: Goliad knew me even before I was an opera fan. Now that I’m returning to Texas expressly to take part in an opera — Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, with the Fort Worth Opera Festival — I’ve started at the beginning.

The past is always close by in Goliad. This is surely one reason I always make it a point to visit my loved ones, whenever I come back.

My love of opera finally happened just as I was hitting my teens. The reactions of my relatives varied. My grandfather loved opera when he was growing up in New Orleans, but more for the boisterous crowds in the upper balconies than for the music itself. He liked to refer to my idol, Beverly Sills, as “The Bellower.”

Mom used to complain that “that music just goes right through me,” little guessing how much more piercing were the arias of the metal bands that my classmates preferred. Still, she enjoyed the opera when she went, which she did from time to time, because somebody had to drive me to Fair Park. And Dad, ever the reticent, didn’t even see fit to mention that he liked opera until after I’d been immersed in the art form for nearly a year.

Only then did it emerge that Dad had a favorite opera — Aida — and had in fact dated a singer. When he saw her as Musetta in Bohème, and realized that as a singing actor she didn’t have to dig very deep in order to find the character of the maddening flirt, he broke up with her. (Though I have to wonder whether he bothered to tell her he was doing so.)

There are bluebonnets, too, if you know where to look.

Even as a teenager, I recognized that opera made me special — and that this was not always a good thing. Opera provided solace and beauty, and it taught me many of the skills with which I would break free of my surroundings and some day make a living. Opera gave focus to my dreams, not least to my idea of what it would be like to live in New York.

But opera made me different. I was different in so many ways that it’s entirely probable that the other kids would have found some other reasons to harass me. Opera didn’t really come up in conversation when I was getting shoved into a locker; generally it sufficed on those occasions to call me “weird” or (more often) “faggot.” I wondered whether I’d ever meet anybody who liked opera — who resembled me in any way at all.

In time, I came to New York. I worked for an opera composer’s foundation, and for a singer. I wrote for an opera magazine. I even lived for a while in Musetta’s old stomping grounds, Montmartre. And I met many, many people who loved music and felt pretty much the way I did about all kinds of things.

Now one of those people has used opera to bring me back to Texas. I don’t know what I’ll learn while I’m here — but I’ll try to share with you all that I can.

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