I discovered opera in the Cub Scouts. Now admit it, that’s a sentence you never thought you’d read.
But it’s true. Many times my “reminiscences” are not true and I don’t care, but this one I think will be…mostly.
I was manning a booth in a Saturday afternoon Cub Scout Jamboree being held, as I remember, on the floor of Memorial Coliseum. “Manning”…how quaint…how old could I have been? I was a cub scout lookin’ for a badge.
As I recall, there were not too many people in attendance that afternoon. Thus, my duties were not compelling. To be exact, had I the word “ennui” at that age, I would have relished the chance to use it so aptly.
The adjoining booth was staffed by an adult scout leader who was whiling away the afternoon listening to the Metropolitan Opera Broadcast on WBKY-FM (the call letters were later changed to WUKY). I knew the Cincinnati Reds were playing that same afternoon and I thought I might entice him to switch over to the game. Sly boots that I am, I casually asked what he was listening to.
He just looked at me. I think he was considering how much he could tell me before he’d have to kill me.
How could he explain the love-sick foolishness of Cavaradossi or the jealous foolishness of Tosca or, to put as simply as possible, the un-foolishness of the music…ah.yes, the music? I don’t recall there being an achievement badge for opera.
Finally, he explained; “We’re nearing the end of the first act. In a moment, you’ll hear three gigantic, scary chords. They will announce the entrance of a truly evil, foolish man. His name is Baron Scarpia. His name is also those three chords. If you ever hear them again, be assured he is nearby. If you’re not hearing them on a radio or a stage, I would advise you to flee.”
Sure enough, I heard the chords, and wide-eyed and wide-eared I listened to Scarpia’s scene with Tosca to the end of the act. When it finished, I asked the scout guy what Scarpia had said at the end (the opera being in Italian and my Italian being no better then than it is now). He translated; “Tosca! You make me forget God!!”
Well, my little Southern Baptist jaw dropped at that. I listened the rest of the afternoon and was hooked.
I had experienced grandeur, and largeness of spirit, and the gargantuan tragic foolishness to which humans in a post-Puccini world can aspire. Mostly, I fell in love with Tosca (not liked…loved) and I hated Scarpia (not disliked…hated). My little Cub Scout world had expanded exponentially. My values had not changed, but they were applied to a larger venue. I had been made, not different, but bigger.
Yes, I was hooked and I have gone through decades of being alert for “those three chords.” Scarpia will not catch me by surprise again!