Opera & other trysts: a love story

Opera & other trysts: a love story

Jenna Simeonov

It may be old news for some of you, but readers, I have an announcement: I’m having a baby.

No, in this case, “baby” is not a metaphor for anything. I’m having a real-life baby boy. He has a name and a great wardrobe, and he’s due any day now.

Amazing gifts from my baby shower.

I’m telling you this not because I’m convinced you’re all particularly interested in my personal life, but because it’s part of a bigger story that I think a lot of you understand. Roll your eyes if you must, but what’s about to come is a love story:

Chapter 1: falling for opera

When I first met opera, I fell for it hard and fast. Opera quickly became the centre of my life; as a pianist, opera gave me a new reason to love my instrument. I chose opera over most things, spending my days learning to play orchestral reductions of the greats, comparing different editions of Don Giovanni and Carmen and Giulio Cesare. I spent evenings in YouTube binges, listening to Renée Fleming sing the “Song to the Moon” and Diana Damrau sing “Glitter and be Gay” and Dmitri Hvorostovsky sing “Eri tu” and Juan Diego Flórez sing “Ah! mes amis”. I spent money on opera, carefully filling my shelves with the “right” collections of Ricordi, Bärenreiter, and Boosey & Hawkes.

My focus was so great that it likely made me a not-very-interesting person to those outside of my opera bubble, but I didn’t care. In the years of academia, summer opera programs, and YAP audition circuits, there was always someone with whom I could talk about my love affair with opera. We were all smitten, it seemed.

Chapter 2: falling for a person

When I first met the man who would eventually become my husband, I fell for him hard and fast. I had found a best friend, a companion, someone whose company I could not only stand for long periods of time (entire vacations, even), but I wanted to be spending that time with him. He had zero connection with the opera world, which worried me for a hot second (what if I run out of things to say to him??). Then again, I had no connection with his “world”, either, which was the land where websites get built and the internet had been around since the 80s.

Both of us had shown up to our first date already smitten by our respective passions, and we both relished the chance to tell the other about our love affairs. I took him to shows, babbled about thrilling moments I’d had on the piano bench, and had him listen to some of those YouTube gems that got me so revved up during the honeymoon period of my operatic infatuation. I saw a similar light in his eyes when he spoke about technology, what it took to build the device I used daily but certainly under-appreciated, and the first time he explained to me how wi-fi works (complete with whiteboard diagrams).

Realising that I was now in the middle of two great love affairs - one with opera, and one with my would-be husband - I had been proven wrong in a major way about adult life. Surely, going from one love to two would dilute them both, I had assumed. In truth, the answer is, of course not. The cool surprise though, was how I began to look up from my scores and into the larger world - even the larger world of opera. With the new kind of perspective I got from my husband, a person free of that tunnel-vision I had developed for the art form, my interest in opera grew more well-rounded. In fact, it eventually culminated in the creation of Schmopera: the site built and designed by him, with content written and curated by me.

Chapter 3: falling for another man

When I first looked at the positive results on my home pregnancy test, I didn’t fall hard or fast. I remember smiling, knowing it was good news, but it was the start of a months-long release of fears and what-ifs. I had a flashback of sorts, about that whole making-room-for-more-big-things-in-your-life. Even though the first two love affairs seemed to fit nicely, I was still wary about fitting in a third.

Making room for a partner is one thing, I thought. But they can at least feed and bathe themselves. If my old hunch about sacrificing a bit of one love for another was right - in this case a bit of my love for opera for a love of my love for my son - I knew I wasn’t a complete robot and that the baby would win.

Pretty quickly, my career-centric worries were easily overshadowed by the excitement and wonder of impending parenthood. The pendulum even started to swing the other way: I started to expect a lightbulb moment, when the reality of having a child would kick in, and any attachments I had to something so frivolous as opera would seem totally laughable. Opera, surely, is a love affair so luxurious that it must be reserved for those without families.

You may think this was a naïve thing to think, really, considering the number of artists I knew in the business with families, who were doing just fine professionally. Or maybe my theory sounds like judgment, like I’m saying that a passion for opera - or for photography or tennis, say - is simply a placeholder in one’s life, filling the void that’s really waiting for a husband and kids.

Maybe there was indeed naïve judgement in the mix; clearly, I was still wrestling with the idea of my heart expanding large enough for not one, not two, but three big loves.

Epilogue: the polyamory of life

I write this in the week of my due date, and I’ve realised something even more extraordinary about opera: its artists are awesome, in the fullest sense of the word. The people who make opera - the singers, conductors, répétiteurs - are a slice of the average population; some have families, some don’t. I’m starting to realise that anyone who has kids and does something else is a superhero of sorts. And when it comes to that something else being a venture like opera, that can so easily take up your time, your ears, and your heart, it becomes a beautiful juggling act of love affairs.

My original love affair with opera was always rooted in being impressed by singers. They could do such incredible things, I couldn’t not try to be friends with them. Some of them do these impressive things while being parents and partners, too, and that’s pretty extraordinary.

Maybe I’m late to the party, just figuring all this out now. The cool part is that I now believe in in the polyamory that inevitably comes with life. It’s just impressive when people do it all very, very well.

I’ve always responded well to having role models, and it seems that my current mentors is any artists who looks up from their work and lends their heart to something else all-consuming. I’m already taking a cue from you, you big-hearted folks!

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