Second Time to Venice, First Time to the Opera!

The Fenice Theater for my first opera, La Boheme

It happened sooner than I expected…only a couple weeks after my first visit to Venice, I was taking the train back again and deviating from my original travel plan to continue south to Rome. Last minute travel changes are no big surprise in my life and it was no surprise that my return was thanks to friends I made during my first Venetian visit. Married couple Stuart Neill and Sandra Lopez de Haro are a dynamic and friendly opera singing duo that each have their own careers in the world of opera performing and I enjoyed my first opera thanks to them. Who would have thought that a patio lunch alone in romantic Venice and thousands of miles away from my home of Denver, Colorado would have resulted in experiencing my first opera, La Boheme?

Italian cuisine with a modern twist…is it possible?

The only thing I love more than traveling is people. This must explain why my “sola” travels seem to be full of the best of both. So there I was…sitting in a sunny square in the center of Venice, enjoying a lunch that was Italian with a contemporary twist – yeah, exactly…Oh boy, can the two go together? It wasn’t so bad but it was weird-looking enough that it provoked my first introduction with Stuart who started talking with me on the premise of asking if I knew what in the world I had ordered. And truth is, I wasn’t so sure of what I had ordered.

Anyways, finally getting to how this all resulted in seeing an opera….

The Ceiling of the Fenice Theater, rebuilt after a fire in 1996.

Stuart and his wife Sandra are from America, so am I, and we became quick friends! That same day I got to accompany Stuart to the Fenice Theater opera house that is one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Venice. The gold-gilding and frescoes inside are absolutely stunning and I got a back-stage view of the place. The highlight however was getting a sneak-preview of the opera while watching a bit of the rehearsal that Sandra was in that afternoon.

A sneak-peak at the rehearsal for La Boheme…

Sandra Lopez de Haro was making her La Boheme debut in Venice on May 12th and she was performing as the lead female role of Mimi. That means she’s the star of the show. Needless to say, I was pretty ecstatic for her and even more so for having met this wonderful family that were so outgoing and welcoming. To top all this off, they are the epitome of the kind of life I want to have one day – they’re traveling for the next eight months performing operas throughout Europe and they have their precious 13-month old girl with them.

Sandra with bambina Isabella!

As any smart, last-minute solo traveler would do, I kept in mind their invitation to attend the opera and a couple of weeks later made it back for the debut performance on May 12th. Stuart and Sandra were kind enough to get me seats with their discount and they turned out to be box seats on level two, directly stage right. I learned that in the world of performing these are called the wings and that they can be tough on your neck, but there’s no closer I could have been to the stage and I was directly over one end of the orchestra pit. And in the days to come I found my neck was not sore at all (I reference that with sarcasm, by the way…).

Oh, and let me back up and preface this experience with the fact that I also attended with Stuart the full dress rehearsal the Thursday before. This really helped me learn more about the story-line of La Boheme (that and Stuart was sitting next to me literally translating the Italian for me). Being able to compare the rehearsal with the actual performance was such a great experience because I feel that I got to understand more about opera and what it takes to perform such amazing music. Talking with Sandra later, it was neat to hear about how much it takes to work with others and have the strength to sing such powerful music and act simultaneously.

La Boheme, Act II

What I will never forget from my first experience with the opera is that in both the rehearsal and the debut performance, the powerful melodies of the voices and the soaring orchestra brought chills over me…I was touched by such beautiful sounds created from voice and instrument and then brought even more to life with colorful enactment. I believe music is already so powerful and this took it to an entirely new level that has me delighted and captivated.

As I prepare to leave Venice for the second time, I have a similar touching feeling that I will be back to Venice again one day and I will certainly be experiencing many more operas in the future. I not only have Stuart and Sandra to thank for this…I also have Venice to thank. Molte grazie!