He could be anywhere between the ages of 25 and 60, possessing a yuthful appearance but such incredible presence and power, not to mention expertise, that defies youth. And he, Maestro Francesco Maria Colombo, is conducting an opera Gala with the Opera Company of North Carolina this weekend.

It is my first experience singing opera.

Odd business, this. I’m the descendant of the Puritans, almost 100% English (a little Dutch thrown in a few generations back), with that stiff upper lip and deeply ingrained reserve the English are noted for – not to mention the traditions of self-denial and constraint of the females of the American South. And here I am singing opera choruses by Italian composers, being instructed by this Maestro to emote, to feel in the music as I’m not “supposed” to feel in real life.

“More sex!” he commanded for the women’s trio of the Triumphal March from Aida. “Ladies, put more sex into your voices – use hormones!” We laughed, a little nervously I noticed…. how does one put sex into the voice????? But we appear to have succeeded; maybe those among us who have sung opera before know what he meant.

He told us to put more soul into “Patria Oppressa” (the Lament of the Scottish Refugees from Verdi’s MacBeth) “It is the saddest thing Verdi ever wrote,” he told us (and I’ll take his word for it) – “the audience should be in tears!”

Emotion! Unaccustomed, a bit frightening –

We rehearsed … was it last night or is it still tonight? I got home at midnight, the cat woke me up at quarter til four… – here I am, posting – with the orchestra and soloists. Wonderful cast! (See here) Simply magic. I don’t know Italian, and I don’t know how a true proficient would rate these singers, but for my money (considerable with gas at nearly $3.30/gallon and that long drive to and from Raleigh) these men and women are outstanding – clear, impassioned, gifted…

The music touches something in me, and it’s a bit scary. I found my thoughts going places I didn’t want them to go, listening – places of such intense feeling that I am almost afraid of. I was taught to suppress feelings, to control them – but for me it’s gone too far, I’ve lost the ability to cry even when it is appropriate and needful. During the rehearsal I felt frighteningly close to tears several times. I’m a little (!) concerned that I might break over and shed tears during the performance –

and, once begun, not be able to stop.

It occurs to me that there is something cathartic and therefore therapeutic about this music – I only wish I had a mentor to teach me how to use it well.

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