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A Night at the Opera

With a brave heart, I took about thirty 10th graders from my Humanities class last night to the dress rehearsal of the Washington National Opera production of Puccini's Tosca. Once a year, I believe, the WNO opens up a dress rehearsal to school groups (this took the place of the student matinée performances they used to offer). I prepared my students over the past week or so, and I can tell you that any opera with a torture scene, a cold-blooded murder, an execution, and a suicide in it is an easy sell to teenage boys.

As much as they appeared to enjoy watching the opera on DVD, I was not prepared for how much most of them would like seeing it live. We are a boys school, so any event with girls at it is very welcome, and it was great to see school-age kids interacting with each other at the opera, which used to be one of the best pick-up places in any city. Before the average age of operagoers was in the 60s, that is. We had the additional treat, after the rehearsal, of going backstage at the Kennedy Center, on an impromptu tour given by a friend of the school who works for the WNO. We got to walk through the wings (where the sets for Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila, which will run in repertory with Tosca for much of May, are stored) and onto the stage, and even behind the final set to see what soprano Ines Salazar, as Tosca, leapt onto at the opera's conclusion.

Salvatore LicitraAs we were leaving the backstage area, who should we get to meet but one of the production's stars, tenor Salvatore Licitra, who was magnificent as Mario Cavaradossi? I and many of the students were delighted to shake his hand and congratulate him. He asked how many of the students had seen their first opera tonight, and many of them raised their hands. Licitra smiled and said, "Boring, right?" I can assure you that that is the last word the students had on their minds when I talked to them afterwards. So, I have done my part to bring down the age of the average operagoer and bring opera to the next generation. Our thanks are due to the WNO and our tour guide for making this memorable evening possible. (I am not supposed to make any other comments about the dress rehearsal, since I was not there as a member of the press, but we will have a review of Tosca after we see an actual performance.)

The Washington National Opera will present Tosca on May 6, 13, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, and 31.

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