Opera is more like real life… than real life.

Fresh out of university in 1980, I was encouraged  by my best friend to buy season tickets to the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde.  This popular Montréal theatre had a reputation of putting on more traditional french-language plays, rarely anything experimental.  And, of course, there was always Molière and Shakespeare.  There was a time I saw more Shakespeare translated into French than English.

The same friend invited me to a couple of operas and it hit me!  This feels more like real life than theatre.  In fact, it feels more like real life… than life!

Today, friends ask me how can opera be more like real life than life?  I don’t know… to me, it just feels more like real life.  I guess it’s the music.  I still go to the theatre… maybe once a year.  But, I’ve replaced the theatre by music now… symphonies and operas.

For instance, anyone experiencing the despair of the end of a cherished love or the death of a parent or facing one’s own mortality immediately gets the message, even without understanding the lyrics.  In Tosca, the painter Mario Cavaradossi  is told that he has one hour to live and he sits to write a letter to Tosca.  (What would an opera be without a letter scene?)  Only this time, the tenor stops writing the letter to sing the beautiful and haunting E lucevan le stelle (And the stars shone).  The last words, “I have never loved life more.”


Some of my father’s earliest memories were of radio shows in the evening and one of my grandmother’s favourite radio shows featured opera arias and it always ended with Puccini’s O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa).  This aria must have resonated with my grandmother.  In it, we hear Lauretta begging her father to let her marry her love, Rinuccio, who has just been been disinherited by his wealthy uncle.

No doubt, the parallels between Lauretta and my grandmother (Eugénie) were not lost on her.  She would have had to ask her father to marry her love, my grandfather (Giulio), an uneducated Italian immigrant without a history.

Don’t you love this photo?  Here they are, Eugénie and Giulio, the proud couple with their first born.

By the way, great hats, all!


Giulio, Eugénie and Orlando. (c. 1921)

Leave a comment


  1. Brigitte

     /  August 3, 2019

    I do indeed love that photo and what a beautiful couple they are 🙂

    • You can’t read too much into these photos but my grandfather looks quite pleased with himself looking like a fashionable gentleman. My grandmother looks timid. Perhaps she is thinking, “What will my sisters think when they see me in this hat!” She was very much a basic, down-to-earth kind of woman.

      Thanks for writing.

  2. FiveoaksBouquet

     /  August 4, 2019

    Very good-looking family, very pretty grandma, handsome grandpa. The hats are chic, your grandfather’s collar and tie are superb, and little Orlando is cute as the dickens!

    Don’t get me started on opera—too many maddening characters and you just want to give them a shake. But the music is beautiful.

  3. Tara C

     /  August 5, 2019

    Love that family photo! They always make you wonder what was going through their mind when it was taken.

    • Yes! It was probably taken in Montreal but we know that my grandfather returned to Italy with his wife and 2 children to try and make a go of it. He opened a liquor store in Apricena but things didn’t work out. There is an Ellis Island entry of him, wife and 2 children on the SS America (1908) entering the US from Naples. I think that he never returned to Italy after that.

  4. Saskia

     /  August 5, 2019

    Beautiful photo and so true about opera! We amused ourselves the other day by rewatching the movie “Oscar” with Sylvestre Stallone which is a modern take on opera in the form of a slapstick-crime-comedy with so many twists and turns. Thankfully it is easy to follow as it is in English. The film score was composed by Elmer Bernstein and is based around Gioachino Rossini’s Barber of Seville. You laugh genuinely at the foibles of humanity and the music adds to it so you just feel alive!


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