"Hey I know this one!" Henry turned to me with a grin as the first lyrical phrases of "La donna e mobile" rang out on stage. Henry, a college friend visiting from Boston, and I were at the premier of Baltimore Concert Opera's Thirsty Thursday "Arias, Ambers, and IPAs" in fall of 2015. We lounged on the velvety red couches in the dazzling Engineers Club, nursing glasses of local Baltimore Brewery's Bell's Amber Ale (specially paired with the musical selections), while hanging onto each inhumanly beautiful note resonating from the performers. Surrounded by audience members who also couldn't help beaming, we drank in the beauty with all our senses.
Both of us had grown up begrudgingly playing classical music (piano for me, clarinet for him) and had dutifully studied our scales and inversions. But as adults, we were still trying to learn what parts of our musical upbringing we actually feel connection with. I was lucky to have been exposed to opera in college as a happy accident; Henry had never been to an opera performance of any kind. At that moment though, both us had were equally enchanted. We had no doubts we were having the time of our lives.
But arguably, the performers and directors themselves were having even more fun. They beamed jovially with each note, each wink at the audience, and each cheeky introduction ("this is the 'no you hang up' duet"). To our pleasant surprise, during intermissions and after the final standing ovation, the singers along with the executive director Julia Cooke and artistic director Brendan Cooke mingled with the crowd, and we discovered they're just as warm, funny, and charismatic offstage. In true BCO fashion, they invited the audience to join them for drinks and food nearby, which my friend and I eagerly joined. The BCO team brought me back to my college days of wonder and openness, that feeling of the world is your oyster and any new person you meet can change your life.
During one of these post-show chow sessions after another performance, I sat next to Julia and Brendan and learned firsthand of their adventurous origin story and vision to share the best of opera with as broad an audience as possible.
"Well to be honest, I really don't know much about music," I confessed between mouthfuls of jalapeno poppers, " I have a ton of fun, and I bet these singers are great, not that most of us can tell though."
Brendan turns to me, suddenly uncharacteristically serious. " Well, I don't think that's true. People can tell quality. It's like when someone eats a hamburger from a McDonald’s versus a prime cut of filet mignon. They can tell the quality on the first bite, even if they don't know anything about steak, or have the language to describe it, or the skills to make it. It's the same with music. We only bring in artists at the top of the game and give our audiences the best."
If I loved BCO before, that moment cemented my respect and understanding of this team. Contrary to what many may assume about opera, these folks don't take themselves seriously, but they are very serious about their art. That faith in the audience, that firm belief we all deserve the best regardless of our musical background, that opera is fun and joyful-- this spirit is what draws me to BCO.
Brendan is right. I can always count on them. It is because I trust their vision and taste that I recommend Baltimore Concert Opera to everyone with full confidence, whether they are classical musicians or just curious, whether they grew up in small towns or are visitors from New York or London (Henry still asks about when shows are so he can time his visits). Since that first Thirsty Thursday, I've made an effort to come to each event I'm in town for with friends, dates, classmates in tow. Inspired by BCO's democratic, down-to-earth approach, I make a special effort to bring people who are new to opera. I tell them with absolute sincerity that the BCO is my favorite thing in Baltimore. At BCO, I don't hold back my tears, laughter, or cheers. I relish the opportunity to break out of my daily routine and enter a magical space saturated with beauty. I itch for each chance to revel in awe, rub elbows with every generation, and hear joyous exclamations and amazed whispers in multiple languages. I look forward to meeting new artists from around the country who humble and exhilarate me with their talent, passion, and pursuits of excellence in paths so unfamiliar to me.
I am so grateful to BCO because they remind me how rich, expansive, and beautiful the world is, and how lucky I am to be here. I already can't wait for the next time.
MD Candidate (2019), Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
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