After the University of Colorado’s graduation ceremony in May of 1970, I tumbled out into the world and, fortunately, into my first summer in Colorado. I’d never heard of an old mining town called Central City or of its opera house, and the news that Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men had been configured into an opera had not reached me. My head was full of far more secular content – a fascination with foreign sports cars and competing in parking lot slalom races with my roommate’s Datsun roadster. I borrowed it one Saturday morning for a little practice in the mountains, which eventually led me up Eureka Street toward the Central City Opera House. A psychic ambush if there ever was one, I drove about one car-length past the sign announcing that evening’s performance of Of Mice and Men, parked the car, found the ticket office open, and decided that I must go to that performance and on that very evening if I could.Subscriptions are on sale now and single tickets will be available beginning April 1st. Check out CentralCityOpera.org for information, including artist profiles for each opera.
Clearly my passions had turned a corner while I was steering straight ahead, a phenomena that was presaged by an event that had occurred six years earlier, when I was junior in high school, and suburbia was all that I knew. I was bored by a world of fruit-cocktail-laden Jell-o and terrible AM radio, but when West Side Story arrived in local theaters, I was not bored. Bernstein’s stunning music and the dance and the color illuminated an expanse of my soul that had never before seen the light of day, and I was swept away. But the memories of my intense delight and longing began to recede and fell into a long slumber. That was the best that I could do in Bettendorf, Iowa, circa 1964.
But on a summer afternoon six years later, a reservoir of longing in that neglected backwater of my psyche rose up and would have its way with me; I was going to the opera and in surroundings that only deepened the seduction. I sped back to Boulder (more practice, but with purpose) to draw my girlfriend into my quest. She agreed, so we made our best attempt to dress up, drove westward, and arrived in time to purchase tickets in the balcony.
I assume that it was opening night, because a surprising number of patrons had flowers tucked under their seats that they would launch at the end of the evening. I can report with more certainty what happened to me. Starting early in third act, I began to have what to this day I can only describe as a transcendent experience. My sense of separateness melted into an ecstatic sense of communion with everything and everybody. Whatever this was, I did not resist coming down with a serious case of it, and I would want to say that I was not under the influence of anything but that opera. Only after I began to study mysticism several years later did I have some context for understanding that window of Grace that opened for me on a summer night in the balcony of the Central City Opera House.
This is how the evening ended: We held our collective breath as George raised a pistol to Lennie’s head; a fatal shot was fired; and the ballad singer fell silent and left the stage. The curtain fell in silence, and as it was lifted again, the entire house rose in an explosion of applause. But what I remember most vividly was that on the stage, it rained flowers, and on me, a little more ecstasy. These days, when a performance has ended, I carry a taste of that evening with me still. Perhaps that is why I like to be the last person to leave.
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