#3 La Traviata

The saplings have arrived!

Student drawing from our incredible garden

The plants we ordered for work might still be in the box, but I can already imagine their potential. The garden outside my art class is destined to look somewhere between the Bronx Botanical Gardens and The Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

These still boxed buds make me think about the hidden potential in the student singers I hear across the hall in Barb and Risa’s music room. I bet there is a potential Pavarotti in there somewhere. Can you imagine hearing him step onto that tightrope of talent and nerve for the first time, it must have been thrilling.

They say 100,000 people claim to have seen Bruce Springsteen’s first concert at the Stone Pony. That’s apocryphal of course, the Stone Pony holds like 800 people, but I think I understand. It feels special to be on the ground floor; to be the first person on your block to put the needle down on The Clash; to recognize that potential first.

The Stone Pony for opera singers is the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. If you are going to be in on the ground floor for the next Pavarotti, and if such a thing is possible, it will be at the Academy.

The intimate setting of the Academy makes it feel all the more special. I heard for the first time here, Michael Fabiano, Angela Meade, and Amanda Majesty, who have now all gone on to brighter lights and larger stages.

After Rob’s introduction to opera I was hungry for more, and after my experience in Italy, famished. So, I almost couldn’t believe it when our school hired an opera loving new science teacher named Sonia. She sought out others who might be interested and ordered tickets for me and a few workmates to see La Traviata, (our first opera together with the AVA). For me that evening is steeped in nostalgia and it has me thinking about the saplings, our students, and my friends from work.

When the shovel broke soil, it found rocks and debris from the new buildings construction. With a little work and sweat and some fresh dirt we manage to get the first saplings planted. They grow and grow and grow… beyond our wildest expectations.

It is early in Act I for me and my workmates. Corky with his irresistible charm and humor champions Phish and puns, while Kelly with her big heart and easy laugh has just returned from the Galapagos islands. I can hear Joe drilling holes for dart board luncheons and the hallway walls have been prepped for two enormous murals I will paint. Conversations run in all possible directions over beers and pool tables, we watch the Harry Potter and Lord of the Ring blockbusters in wide eyed amazement with tubs of yellow popcorn, and myths around Ed’s end of the year parties twist like vines sprouting a leaf for each year of our future together.

It still feels like Act I for me and my workmates, however the days of going out after evening conferences are long over, well mostly over.

The plants outside the art room now reach the roof and some of our students have branched as far as Juilliard and Europe, while others have rooted their own families nearby.

A decade after our first visit to the AVA I’ll catch Corky and Kelly on the Northeast Corridor Train, funny enough on their way to see an opera at the Met still sowing the seeds planted by Sonia so many years before.

Echinacea from the work garden

My memories from this performance of La Traviata are like a wilted camellia, Violetta’s token symbol. I’m trying to nurture them with sunshine and water but it was too long ago to tell you how the French horn sounded or how deep was the tenor.

What I do remember is the wonderful camaraderie of my friends and the emotional sincerity of the singers we saw together that night; it still resonates deeply.

Let this blog I’m beginning to write firmly press these sapling opera experiences and preserve them for someone to enjoy, and maybe fulfill my biggest hope from these writings, to inspire them one day to go and press their own.

So what’s La Traviata all about? La Traviata begins with a celebration that would make a Hollywood after party jealous. Violetta is a courtesan with a philosophy based on having a good time and free love, but it is slowly catching up with her. Enter Alfredo who challenges her philosophy with his own, which is to aim for true love. Will Violetta set aside her courtesan ways to find true love, or will class differences and her past get in the way?

Notes on the production


Composer…………………… Giuseppi Verdi

Violetta……………………..…. Jan Cornelius

Alfredo Germont …………Michael Fabiano

Giorgio Germont……………Octavio Mareno

Conductor…………….………..Christofer Macatsoris

Academy of Vocal Arts