A boombox older than me has always sat on dad’s kitchen counter, behind the dishpan. As I did at the same time every week that year, I pulled it out and extended the antenna, flipping the switch to our local NPR station.
The “World of Opera” filled the air. It was a weekly program which broadcast performances by world-renowned opera companies.
During the 2005-06 school year, I was a senior in high school. My dad, working for FEMA and he was deployed for Hurricane Katrina. I lived at home with our dog.
As the “World of Opera” filled the house, I would clean, dance and escape into the music. It was my first exposure to the artform and my week would be desperately depressed in teen melodrama if I missed the show.
Living alone, at first I felt free. Then, the reality of my solitary life took hold. I missed hugging my dad.
But I was still free to explore who I was, what I needed and what I wanted. “World of Opera” became part of that. Every week, NPR would hug me with Opera. I wished I had someone to which to share this experience.
Earlier this week, Darko Butorac, the conductor of “La Traviata,” which is the opera for this year’s Northern Lights Music Festival, told me that opera is meant to be a community experience. “You should enjoy this artform together.”
It was my first exposure to opera and started a love affair. As with everything opera, it was passionate.
“Who wants to go to an opera with me?” I asked my children earlier this week.
“I do,” said Shannon.
“I don’t,” said Mick.
Since the kids moved in, and even more so this summer, they have been attending events and interviews with me. We research together and I always ask their thoughts. Often, they provide me with insight I might have otherwise overlooked or a question I should be sure to ask.
I enjoy all of my reporting assignments and especially looked forward to attending the Northern Lights Music Festival’s dress rehearsal of “La Traviata.”
“What is an opera?” Shannon whispered Wednesday night as the pit orchestra warmed up in the Veda Zuponcic Auditorium at Mesabi East High School.
We had the audience space almost completely to ourselves and we chose the best seats in the house.
Taking a second to refresh ourselves before the performance started, we discussed opera and found Veda Zuponcic herself in the entry.
“Come this way and talk with some of the performers,” she excitedly said, leading us backstage. “Where is your mommy?” She asked one singer, dressed in a white ballgown with black trimming.
I would learn that this was 13-year-old Sara Partida-López, daughter to Cecillia Violetta López, the lead performer.
Shannon hovered while I quickly interviewed some international singers in the festival’s apprentice program.
López was preparing to go on stage and we returned to our seats just in time for her entrance.
The performance was breathtaking. Her musicality and acting led us through the ups and downs of Violetta’s story.
During the intermission Shannon and I discussed how some of the singers could hardly speak English, but that didn’t matter. Although “La Traviata” was sung in Italian, the music needed no language. The communication barriers had melted away.
At the end of rehearsal, we met with López. “She was amazing — so nice and kind — just amazing,” gushed Shannon following that interview.
López took the time to open up to us as a genuine person. Our interview warmed up with her talking about this being her first time to the area but as soon as I asked about her daughter, the dream of every reporter happened- we had an instant connection.
She told us stories of when she couldn’t find a sitter during college and would bring her daughter along to classes.
As with every hard working mother, she would invent things to keep her child entertained.
I thought of my office at the Mesabi Daily News. A Pack-n-Play takes up one corner and at the end of every day, I pile the bucket of toys for the baby and bouncy ball and books for the big kids back in their spots.
It is hard keeping up with work while struggling with childcare (May 15-July 25 our baby doesn’t have daycare due to the regional shortage). However, this struggle isn’t negative if you don’t let it be.
López talked to us about her daughter’s early exposure to opera and how they have bonded over the various characters she portrays.
“This Violetta is special because we get to share it together,” she said and I knew exactly what she meant.
Throughout the interview Shannon had asked a few questions, becoming part of the conversation and getting comments from the interviewee that I hadn’t. Following the opera she helped me discuss and digest the performance.
Not only did Shannon get to see her first opera, but it was an experience we shared together- but not just the opera itself, my job along with it. She was part of the preparation, interview and review which lead me to produce a story and this column. This was all something we did together.
López smiled at Shannon. “You will never know how much this means.”
Mother to mother, each with our tween daughter in tow, López and I were able to connect through opera.
Opera is for the family and all ages. It is meant to be shared. Come, be a part of our community as we experience “La Traviata” together.
There are still two performances of “La Traviata” as part of this year’s Northern Lights Music Festival.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, “La Traviata” will be performed at the Chisholm High School Auditorium. Beginning at 1:30 p.m., in the Chisholm Jr. High Library, a pre-opera talk will be given by Bill Bastian. Immediately following the opera there will be a dinner with the artists at Valentini’s Supper Club.
Tickets are $15 a person and reservations are required and can be made by calling 218-254-2607.
Finally, at 7 p.m. on Monday, “La Traviata” will be performed in the Washington Auditorium at Ely High School. Beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Washington Auditorium Library, a pre-opera talk will be given by Bill Bastian.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. Cost is $40 for adults and $15 for students and 18.
The Northern Lights Music Festival is a three-week event that travels throughout the Iron Range bringing a variety of classical musical performers into libraries other community areas.
For more information on the festival and to see a full list of events, visit their website at https://www.northernlightsmusic.org.