Opera Betty: The Rake’s Progress

You know? things in this world are not going as planned. There are times when we here at Opera Betty read the news and shake our heads. That’s what we do when life imitates art. Life should make up some of its own material, if you ask me.

The Rake’s Progress was first performed on 9/11 (before 9/11 was 9/11), in 1951. The recording I have is of the world premier, in Venice (Italy, not Arkansas). It’s conducted by Stravinsky, so it’s completely rocking  – except it sounds like someone played the recording on a Victrola, while holding up one of those old cassette players. The cassette was then thrown out of a car window, driven over, respooled and digitally remastered.

In other words, it’s totally cool to have, but painful to listen to.

Stravinsky wrote The Rake’s Progress when he was already very successful, writing commissioned pieces for orchestras around the world. So full disclosure: no kick-backs up front. He was inspired by a series of modern moral subjects, by artist William Hogarth, and thought aw, what the heck?


The Rake’s Progress, then, is a cautionary moral tale. Let us begin.

We have Anne Trulove and Tom Rakewell, singing in the garden of Anne’s father’s country estate. Her father has offered to help find Tom a job, but Tom would rather get rich without doing any actual work. He wishes this aloud and, poof! who should appear but Nick Shadow.

Nick tells Tom he has inherited a fortune. Tom hires Nick as a servant and the two go off to London to collect the inheritance. Note the “master” and “servant” irony, if you would, please.

In London, Nick takes Tom to a brothel, run by a madame named Mother Goose. I don’t make this stuff up, people. W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman did. To his credit, Tom resists the charms of the prostitutes, but finally succumbs to Mother Goose. I mean really, who can resist a little Mother Goose at bedtime?

Anne, sensing a disturbance in the force, goes to find him.

Meanwhile, Tom has grown bored with his stint as the prodigal son. He is rich, rich, rich, but still not happy. So he wishes he was happy and, poof again! Up pops Nick. Nick suggests Tom marry the bearded lady, Baba the Turk. Which I’m sure seemed like a good idea at the time?

Anne arrives, but is rejected by Tom. Which is a lucky break for her, I’d say.

Baba the Turk then drives Tom out of his ever-loving mind. He tosses a wig at her to get her to pipe down, which turns her into a statue. I’m sure there’s some kind of symbolism there but it’s beyond me.

With Baba quiet, Tom finally gets some sleep and dreams of a wonderful device. He wakes up and wishes it were true, because with this machine you could make bread out of stones. Get rich quick, scheme, anyone?

It’s even worse than that, because when Nick arrives on the scene to grant his wish, the machine is a fraud (you put in a rock and a loaf of bread comes out the trap door). Tom attempts to sell the machines (to eradicate world hunger, don’t you know), and goes bankrupt when he’s discovered as a humbug.

Insert parallel corporate scandal here.

All of Tom’s belongings are then auctioned off, including Baba.

It’s been a year since Tom first met Nick Shadow, and it’s time for Nick to claim Tom’s soul (what’s left of it). They play a game of cards to see who gets to keep the soul and Tom, trusting Anne’s voice, wins with the Queen of Hearts. Ahhh! Peace and happiness at last!

Except Nick condemns Tom to insanity – which I hardly think is fair. He’s committed to an asylum (the notorious Bedlam asylum, interestingly enough), where he is completely delusional and tries to convince his fellow nut hatches that he’s the Greek god Adonis. According to godchecker.com, Adonis is  the “handsome God of Desire and Manly Good Looks. Has a very high squeee! factor.”

Let’s add godchecker.com to the list of random websites I have a new crush on, shall we?

The other inmates don’t believe him, until Anne appears and sings him a lullaby. They all think she’s Venus. And then Tom dies peacefully in his sleep. That’s some singing.

But wait! In case you missed the point, all the main characters come marching out for the Epilogue, and tell us their own version of what the hell happened. Pun intended.


Opera Betty: Mother’s Day Edition

Since it’s Mother’s Day, I asked my very clever daughter if she could think of any operas that have mothers in them. She did not disappoint.

The first opera she came up with was Il Trovatore. The gypsy Azucena stole Manrico from his family, intending to burn him at the stake to avenge her mother, who Manrico’s family burned at the stake. She ends up raising Manrico as her own son because she messed up and accidentally threw her own son into the fire. She ends up getting Manrico killed too, but that takes longer.

The other one she thought of was Iphigenie en Tauride. It was Iphegenie’s father who sacrificed her, so we should probably play this one again in June. Iphegenie’s mother then killed the father. And then her brother killed her mother. Which is a shame because all this time Iphegenie wasn’t even dead.

Agrippina was the ultimate stage mom, maneuvering her son, Nero, into the emperorship. She succeeds, but he kills her anyway – just not in this opera.

And then there’s Medea. She helped Jason get the Golden Fleece and he in turn helped her get rejected by her family. He also fathered her children. And then he went off and married someone else, which Medea wasn’t down with. So she killed his fiancee. And then she killed her kids.

And then there’s poor Salome, who got worked by her mother Herodias. There are several versions – none of them end well. Strauss has Salome killed. Massenet has her kill herself. Either way, it’s her mom’s fault.

Speaking of incest, there’s the whole Siegmund/Sieglinde issue. Siegmund meets Sieglinde and falls in love with her. It turns out she’s his twin sister but that doesn’t stop him from asking his father, Wotan, for help in killing Sieglinde’s husband. Wotan says he’ll help but his wife will never let him hear the end of it if he helps break up the marriage. Brunhilde tries to help too, but gets sent to her room, which is surrounded by a ring of fire. Sieglinde will bare Siegmund a son in the next opera, and, to complicate things, name him Siegfried.

Then of course there’s poor Madama Butterfly who marries Pinkerton, has his child and sits around waiting for years for him to get home from work, only to realize he didn’t really marry her.


Let us not forget the Queen of the Night in Magic Flute. She’s a tricky bugger. And she has a very famous aria.


The nice mom in the mix is Suor Angelica. She’s in a convent because that’s what happens when you accidentally have a baby. One evening her aunt comes to ask her to sign away her inheritance. She’s okay with that, but what she really wants is news of her son – who was taken from her seven years ago. Her aunt breaks the news that her son died two years before.

Alone that evening, Suor Angelica has a vision, in which her son is calling to her from heaven. Being handy with plants, she makes herself a poison and drinks it, thinking they will be reunited in heaven. But as soon as she drinks it, she realizes she committed a sin by killing herself and fears she will not make it to heaven.

As she dies, she sees another vision.

We hope all you mothers don’t get food poisoning from undercooked eggs, or end up in an opera. Wear your noodle necklaces with pride. They go with everything, you know.


Opera Betty #64: Monsters of Grace

For the February broadcast on WOMR I was going to put together a Valentine show but ran into some trouble.

Valentine’s Day is a little rough for opera characters. Mimi, Mario, Violetta, Ernani, Carmen, Manrico, Lucia, Aida, Tristan and Isolde are all dead and most of the others are locked in their rooms writing bad poetry.

And then I thought I’d do a David Bowie tribute show, but my favorite track on Blackstar has a string of f-bombs, none of them subtle but all very catchy. So I thought about an opera that made me think of David Bowie and came up with Monsters of Grace, by Philip Glass.

Now you’re probably thinking I picked Monsters of Grace as a tribute to David Bowie because of Scary Monsters – which is one of my favorites because obviously – but you’d only be partially right. I picked Monsters of Grace because it’s based on the poetry of Rumi, the sufi mystic.

Our new favorite game here is “Bowie or Rumi” – in which you guess who penned the lines (if they even had pens in 13th century Persia). Here are some examples:

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the centre of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.


Wish, and the storm will fade away
Wish again, and you will stand before me while the sky will paint an overture
And trees will play the rhythm of my dream

Are they Bowie, or Rumi?

The New York Times called Monsters of Grace “a work of mysterious possibilities.”

Glass responded to Rumi’s poems which are meditations on the range of human experience: Inspiration for art, companionship and compassion, ruminations on earthly pleasures, questions of heaven, the secrets of life, joy, mortality, recognition of the self and the nature of God.

Sounds like opera.

Music Critic Joshua Kosman writes of Glass: “The deliberate simplicity of his harmonic and rhythmic palette are old news by now, but what’s remarkable is how much depth and emotional force he still manages to wring out of those restricted resources. It’s not just the teasing elusiveness of lines like “Don’t go back to sleep!” that make the music seem as if it’s emerging from a dream state; it’s the hypnotic repetitions of familiar harmonies in unfamiliar guises, which slip right past the listener’s rational apparatus.”

Monsters of Grace is a multimedia chamber opera in 13 short acts directed by Robert Wilson, with music by Philip Glass and libretto from the works of Rumi. The title came from a typo when Wilson used a line from Hamlet: “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!” Auto-correct does it again.

The texts of Monsters of Grace is translated from the Persian by Coleman Barks with John Moyne and AJ Arberry, and the recording was released for Rumi’s 800th birthday.


Because this is radio we mostly talk about the music and libretto, but “Monsters of Grace,” is billed as “A Digital Opera in Three Dimensions.” The opera is made up of 13 unconnected segments, each of which combines computer-generated 3-D visuals. Yes, if you go you get to wear 3d glasses. The music is performed by a seven piece ensemble and four singers.

MoG-bicycleCritic Joshua Kosman goes on to say of the multi media aspect of the performance “Wilson’s most vibrant sequences — including a suburban landscape with a small boy bicycling toward the audience out of the twilight gloom, or a family perched atop an aquatic A-frame house that floats from the tropics to the arctic in the space of three minutes — grip the imagination.

The 3-D effects are used sparingly, but always to splendid effect. The tropical rain forest is home to a large and frighteningly vivid dragonfly, and hands occasionally reach directly into the audience. In the piece’s most exquisite moment, a small songbird flies slowly and gracefully across the center of the auditorium.”

Seterogram-MoGPerhaps the best summation of the piece comes during “Like This,” when the singers intone, “If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don’t try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips — like this.”

In the liner notes of Monsters of Grace, Philip Glass says “Over the last three years, Bob Wilson and I have been meeting to work on a new theater piece, Monsters of Grace. Since Einstein on the Beach in 76, we have come together on several occasions to make new work, but unlike those projects, with this present work, we have had a real opportunity to sit together and engage in a new world of ideas. Of course image, music and structure are at the root of what we are thinking. We are, moreover, addressing a challenge of a new technology and it’s impact of a developing artistic view. It is fair to say that as an on going process, it is still fluid, elusive, and for us, full of surprise.”— Philip Glass, 1997



While I would love to watch the chamber opera in all its 3D digital splendor, it’s perhaps just as well that this is radio and we only get to listen to Monsters of Grace. In the New York Times, Director and Designer Robert Wilson is quoted as saying “I hated that!” and “It was one of the most embarrassing things in my life.”

It’s safe to say Monsters of Grace is not Einstein on the Beach.

When Monsters of Grace was first produced, in 1998, digital animation wasn’t where it is now. According to the liner notes, this seems to have been the project’s main flaw. It took twenty animators almost a full year to complete the footage based on Robert Wilson’s original intent. Wilson, who has been described as liking to maintain great control over his projects and to change details at the last minute, gradually grew frustrated upon seeing how much time was required to change the animations, and ended up distancing himself from the animators. This led to a final product that, from his standpoint, was unpolished. In an interview with the New York Times, he remarked, “This is like being a dog with a litter of puppies that went away six weeks later. . . . Here I was working with people who didn’t know my work, in a medium I didn’t know.”

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Wilson had today’s technology to realize his designs.

Bowie or Rumi:
Stop the words now.
Open the window in the centre of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.

Wish, and the storm will fade away
Wish again, and you will stand before me while the sky will paint an overture
And trees will play the rhythm of my dream

Soul love – the priest that tastes the word and
Told of love – and how my God on high is
All love – though reaching up my loneliness
By the blindness that surrounds him

My prayer flies
like a word on a wing
Does my prayer fit in
with your scheme of things?

Vision, see nothing I don’t see.
Language, say nothing.
The way the night knows itself with the moon,
be that with me. Be the rose
nearest to the thorn that I am.

There’s such a sad love
Deep in your eyes.
A kind of pale jewel
Open and closed
Within your eyes.
I’ll place the sky
Within your eyes.

Where do we go to now?
There’s nothing in our eyes
As lonely as a moon
Misty and far away

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the door sill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.


Life is like an eye exam

(reprinted by permission from The Magazine of Yoga)

History, repercussions, and desire


I have no idea why I put off my eye exam for so long.

I haven’t read a book in ages. At restaurants I take the menu into the bathroom where there’s better light. My kids have stopped coming to me with splinters and just wait for the school nurse. This is a bummer on weekends.

One day I was proofreading a playbill, squinting, when a full page ad for an optometrist came up. I enlarged the image on my monitor and dialed the number at the bottom of the screen.

Do you know any optometrists? They are lovely.

They give you a comfy chair to sit in and ask you all kinds of questions in an effort to make your life better. They never tell you you’re wrong – how would they know if you were? All the questions are based on how you see things, not how anyone thinks you should see them. Everything should be so simple and ultimately gratifying.

That’s when it hit me: Life is like an eye exam. Trust me, I just had one (an exam, I mean. I’m still working on the life). Every day, every hour we are asked “which one’s clearer? One? Or two?” This is how we go through our days, making strings of choices. Each choice makes the path a little clearer.

Or not. It depends on our choices, obviously.

There is a reason they give you a string of consonants and vowels instead of, say, lines of poetry. Or tax law. We do not attach things to strings of consonants and vowels. We don’t read in consequence or innuendo. We just look at the letters for what they are – blurry or less blurry – until, bing! Things become radiantly clear. At which point we start over.

While life may be like an eye exam, it is not a string of consonants. There’s history and repercussions and desire to consider. Things are complicated in real life! It is not a simple choice between a and b. A and b have an awful lot of baggage. They have attachments. Some of them are scary.

We’d rather not look at them at all, much less see them clearly.

Over the winter I was invited to submit a proposal to a newspaper as a columnist. Having a regular writing gig has been a long time dream and I was, needless to say, out of my mind pleased. Conventional writing wisdom says you have to work your way into being a columnist, taking odd reporting jobs along the way and doing your time. This was a huge opportunity to enter the newspaper world at exactly the point I wanted to end up.

The only problem was, they were looking for a fishing column.

And I don’t fish.

Not only do I not fish, I am incredibly squeamish about things like fish guts. There was no way I was going to become an ace fisherman, or write like one. I agonized for several days, thinking of all the ways I could write a fishing column without ever having to touch a fish. It would be like if the previous columnist had opted to write a column on quilting.

Have you ever noticed you can distill pretty much all your choices down to fear and love?

Look at your motivation and you’ll see. In this case, I was making a fear-based decision. I was afraid that this was the last time an offer like this would come my way. I was afraid I’d miss out on something.

I overcame my fear of not ever being asked to write again with my love of the editor who invited me, and my desire to not get her fired.

I could be wrong because I can’t seem to practice it consistently enough to find out for sure, but I think if all our decisions are love-based instead of fear-based, we make progress faster and find ourselves in less of a blur along the way. Someone please try that and let the rest of us know how it goes.

If this whole scenario had been an eye exam, I would have (pun alert!) seen it clearly. The Optometrist of Life would have said “is this one a good fit?” and when I said “no” the Optometrist of Life (and this is important) would have given me a new set of choices.

Which the Optometrist of Life did

Before long I had a phone call from a theater, asking me to interview as their new director of marketing. I’ve been a long time fan of this theater and love everyone I’ve met who works there. I was a little afraid of how I could make it happen, given the complexity of the rest of my life. I was also nervous about measuring up to their standards. But the thought of working there made me want to skip and sing and hug people, which I think is a good sign.

Once the decision was made, all the pieces fell into place – including finding my optometrist through their playbill. I still find myself wanting to skip at work sometimes, which I couldn’t do all hopped up on Dramamine and wrapped in fishing line.

In my actual-life eye exam, my optometrist told me what glasses to get and said I’d be just fine for a couple years, after which we’d do the whole process again. What was clear yesterday may not work tomorrow. No one wants to stay in the same place for ever. Each time we get to a place of clarity it just gives us a chance to see a little farther and be a little more fearless.

That’s the glory of having so many choices. And so much love with which to make them.

Opera Betty

operabetty-harbor2015Opera Betty  began when the newspaper I wrote an opera column for went belly-up.The demise of the paper and my column are believed unconnected. Recently, the demised paper’s managing editor was busted with $21k in drugs believed for distribution – but that’s nothing compared to what goes down in opera.

The column was geared toward people who read more Spin than Opera News – a fantastically underserved demographic, if you ask me. But no one did ask me, so I started the Opera Betty website.

Radio Betty is the radio version, airing on WOMR the second Sunday of every month at noon, eastern time. I frequently include composers who aren’t dead yet, and talk about the older operas in ways that don’t make you wish you were dead.

I did an interview on Modern-Day Mozartian if you’re curious about what possessed me to do all this.

Opera Betty on Facebook | Opera Betty on Twitter | opera.betty@gmail.com

World’s Best Parenting Trick (and why I hate doing it)

running-for-snacksStupid Facebook.

Someone recently posted one of those “ask your kids these adorable questions about you” things and of course I fell for it. Let me tell you, there are reasons people warn you not to take these quizzes. No, it did not steal my birthdate, blood type and mother’s maiden name. It did something far worse.

It all started a few months ago with the world’s best parenting trick. Seriously. I am a genius. You’re going to wish you had thought of it.

Last fall my son’s soccer coach suggested he get extra running in so he wouldn’t have to stop periodically and look for four leaf clovers. He gets that from me. I have never been a runner, despite frequent attempts. I am a wheezing, gasping, sweaty mess by the end of the driveway. I stop at the end of the driveway because no one in the actual outside world needs to see that.

First I had Studley run around the block, but the block’s not very far and he got bored. Driving alongside him worked until they kicked me off the bike path. And then I remembered Couch to 5k. With Couch to 5k you start with nice long walks speckled with short bits of running. I bought the app, laced up my sneakers and hit the road with my son.

I discovered these truths:

  1. A running partner whose legs are literally half as long as yours is a good thing.
  2. Sixty seconds of running is hideous and nausea-inducing.

I also discovered that people see what they expect to see – and that people are kinder and more generous with their expectations than is reasonable.

What happened: I miraculously kept my whinging to myself with my son trotting alongside.
What people saw: A great and supportive mom, slowing it down for her kid.

I kid you not. People were practically throwing flowers.

I can’t tell you how great this was. Half my problem was how embarrassed I am to plod along in public. Suddenly my snail’s pace was making people’s hearts swell with gratitude for this obvious evidence of kindness and good parenting.

Admiration and approval is very motivational – even if the admiration is founded on a lie. You might think that I’d respond by becoming the mom people mistook me for, but something even better happened: I got to know my boy.

We were both out of breath most of the time – me starting with the tying of the shoes and him after the first spell of running – but I noticed that he was willing to talk while gasping for air, which distracted him from the stopwatch. So I asked him questions. Short, monosyllabic questions.

I learned what was going on in school, what he liked, what he was excited about, what projects he wanted to do, and all sorts of things I still have no idea about but are probably apps. On the trail we could talk about anything and everything.

I asked things like “what’s that?” “what’s it do?” and “tell me more” to keep him going. This will sound ludicrous, but I actually wanted my single-digit aged son to keep talking. I especially tried to get him on a roll when the app was about to say “Let’s Run!” so I could pretend to miss the cue.

He always heard it, and we ran.

We ran for six weeks and made a lot of progress, staying with the program despite the voice in my head telling me we were going to die. And then the weather changed and I had to beg out because who knew cold air burns the lungs like freaking acid?

After a couple weeks of waiting for the searing to stop, I decided I was off the hook and could give up running with a clear conscience. I had given it a good and valiant effort. Soccer season was over and so was I.

And then that stupid Facebook thing happened.

Months after we stopped, his answer to “What do you enjoy doing with me?” was still “running.” And not “running for the best spot on the couch to watch Mythbusters,” either.

For extra guilt-inducing credit, his answer to “what makes me happy” was “me.” Remind me of this when I’m gasping for air on the next non-sub-zero day, running at a pace slightly slower than a brisk walk.

I don’t know why he likes running with me. I am whiny, slow and probably unfashionable.
But I suppose it must be done. The entire town must be worried sick, wondering what happened to that darling little jogger boy and the best mom ever.

And he’s right – he is what makes me happy.

Maybe – somewhere under all the wheezing – I really am the mom people mistook me for.

If you have any tips on how you can run in cold weather and not cough up a lung, I’d appreciate them.

Just don’t post them of Facebook.

Opera Betty: La Traviata


La Traviata, as it turns out, means “The Lost One.” This is news to me as I always thought it was a derivation of the verb travailler and had something to do with a working girl. Which would make sense since, as we have previously discussed, a courtesan is a high class working girl.

There’s heaps to like about La Traviata. Operas with courtesans always have great costumes and fancy sets and this one is no exception. Also, someone dies in the end and I do love an opera where someone dies.

The people you need to concern yourself with here are:

  • Violetta – the title character
  • Alfredo Germont – the guy who falls in love with her and whisks her out of courtesanness, kind of like in that Police song or Pretty Woman, if you will
  • Flora – Violetta’s friend
  • Annina – Violetta’s maid
  • Giorgio Germont – Alfredo’s father, (they just call him Germont)
  • Baron Douphol – Violetta’s escort before Alfredo came along

The opera starts with a prelude that is, like many preludes, a clip show of what’s to come – specifically, the love theme and the somebody’s-going-to-die theme. The word on the street is that the prelude is the last bit to be written. Composers are reported to knock them out just as the orchestra is tuning up, wondering where their music is. They can do this because preludes are an assemblage of the Big Smash Hits they’ve already written in the opera. So. The sad violins are the dying theme and the happy violins are the love theme. Moving on.

Act I

A party at Violetta’s house. At this party she’s introduced to Alfredo, who has been charmingly stalking her for the last year. She had been sick (still is – it’s consumption and did I already say she dies at the end? Spoiler alert), and he’s come every day to check on her. He arrives to the chagrin of Baron Douphol who is Violetta’s escort. The baron has not checked on her every day because, well, he’s not supposed to be likeable. After a bit of chit-chat (which in operaese is called “recitative“), Alfredo sings a drinking song. Who doesn’t like a good drinking song?

Alfredo tells Violetta he loves her. She tells him not to bother. They go on like this for quite some time. And then she tells him to go away, but to come back tomorrow. After he leaves, Violetta sings about how swell it would be to fall in love and have someone love her back. And then she decides she’s really meant for the courtesan life after all.

Alfredo is heard singing outside her window, which changes Violetta’s mind briefly, but then she’s all back to living the high life. No way no how will she leave all this for love.

Act II

She has left it all for love. Violetta and Alfredo have been living outside Paris for three months in unwedded bliss and are running out of money. Alfredo discovers this when he talks to Annina, who tells him Violetta has gone to Paris to sell her stuff and pay their bills. Alfredo is horrified and goes to Paris to get the money himself. There are no details as to how he plans to accomplish this. Maybe he learned a thing or two from Violetta?

While he is gone, Violetta comes back. And then Alfredo’s father, Germont, arrives. Germont asks Violetta to leave Alfredo because her reputation is tarnishing the family name. As long as she remains, says Germont, Alfredo’s sister cannot marry her fiance. It’s complicated. When Violetta waffles a bit, Germont throws in the zinger that when she gets old and saggy, Alfredo will probably leave her anyway. Violetta agrees and writes a letter to Alfredo. She goes to Paris and leaves Germont to deal with Alfredo.

Alfredo comes home and receives Violetta’s letter just after she leaves. He also finds a discarded invitation to a party at Flora’s house, so he storms off to Paris to find Violetta.

Violetta does indeed show up at Flora’s party, with the Baron. Alfredo arrives and proceeds to school the Baron at cards. He wins a pile of cash, enough to pay their debts. Dinner is served, but Violetta asks Alfredo to stay back so she can talk to him. She doesn’t explain what happened, just warns him that the Baron will probably try to provoke a duel. Alfredo kind of loses it a little and calls everyone back into the room. He tells them all how she sold everything and, throwing his winnings at her, declares that he’s paid her back. And then he sings to himself  “Ah si! Che feci! No sento orrore!” which is Italian for “wow, I’m a total asshat.”


Violetta is dying. She’s at her house, which is not such a party these days. She’s attended to by Annina and visited by the doctor, who has quietly told Annina she doesn’t have long to live. Violetta, I mean. Annina’s fine.

At the last possible minute, Alfredo shows up – having been told everything by his father. They sing to each other and Violetta suddenly announces that she feels better. Oh happy day! And then she dies. More sad violin music.

The end.

I have a radio show on opera for people who hate opera on WOMR. Opera Betty is at noon eastern time on the 2nd Sunday of the month.

Trout Yoga – Holiday Edition

My most favorite New Year’s Eve ever, and the one I try to replicate whenever possible, was the year my morose cartoonist boyfriend dumped me right around Christmas. (That’s not the part I try to replicate.)

I should probably clarify that my cat didn’t like the morose cartoonist, so it was really a matter of time before the relationship ended. The only downside was that I wanted to be the one who left. And the timing was terrible. There being no time to find a suitable date, I was home alone for New Year’s Eve.

So I made a plan.

Surrounded by the sounds of a city in celebration, I set myself the task of evaluating the past year and charting a course for what was ahead. I wrote a list of things that I was grateful for, and noticed that it was quite long.

Then I wrote some notes about what I wanted to see in the next year. I wrote down some vagaries about companionship and career and contentment. It was like a spring-cleaning of the soul, except it was winter.

I went to bed shortly after midnight, feeling clean and whole and new.

Note: be careful what you ask for.

That year I went to the Nutcracker and wished quietly for a man who loved to dance and enjoyed the same kinds of things I did.

Not long after that, I met the Nutcracker’s Rat King in a yoga class. We dated until he left the ballet company and became a stripper (which presented scheduling conflicts).

I’m not sure what we’ll be doing to ring in this New Year, but I know it will include a few minutes spent in gratitude. I’ll inventory the last year and remember all the things that made me smile.

The list will be long. May yours be, too. Happy New Year.

This column originally appeared in The Magazine of Yoga


I moved out.

I didn’t mean to but there it is, for the whole neighborhood to see.

I haven’t wanted to talk about all this because of privacy and whatnot, but then I thought: there’s probably another horrible person out there and maybe we can be friends and be horrible together. The things I’m going to say are things you aren’t supposed to say.

Here’s the deal: When a family member is on hospice in your home, you’re supposed to feel all snuggly about spending 24/7 with them. It’s how it’s done.

We all know people we want to spend 24/7 with because oh my stars,  you don’t want to leave them. In fact, I’d put the entire rest of my family in that category.

Then there are those other people. The people you can’t leave because you’re not allowed to.

That’s the one we have.

You may be wondering how we got ourselves into this pickle in the first place. The fact of the matter is, my mother-in-law  wasn’t always a caricature of a grumpy old woman. Chris has been taking care of her for a long time. And for a long time she was great. Until she wasn’t.

As Chris said to the kids one morning, “Grandma used to be really nice. She used to be just like mama.”

You should have seen the look on Studley’s face.

He looked at me. The light dawned.

“Oh no,” he said

So, about my moving out. You know how you don’t realize something until someone else looks at it and for a split second you see it through their eyes and it’s not what you thought it was? It’s like that.

My extended family came by the other day to visit Grandma. They probably didn’t notice anything when they first got to the house, but after a couple hours with her they needed a little fresh air and took a walk in the yard. That’s when they spotted the tent.

And they laughed. Because it was so obvious.

I told them it was for the kids, but not even the kids believe that one.

I was doodling around on Amazon a week or so ago, avoiding something, when I saw the tent and had to have it. We can go camping! We can use it as a guest room! We can hide our heads in the sand! In the comfort of our own yard!

Chris says we need to fold the tent up from time to time, or at least keep moving it around the yard so it doesn’t “ruin the grass.” I put that in quotes because it’s less about the grass and more about his hope that if he makes me move it, there’s less likelihood that I will live in the tent permanently. I think the tip-off was when the carpet went in, followed by proper lighting and wifi.

My friend asked me if I’d put in a composting toilet yet.

It is admittedly the best money I’ve spent in a long time – partially because it gives the kids a place to go (it’s not for them, but I do let them borrow it). As good as they are at helping, it’s nice for them to be thoroughly off duty sometimes. When you’re in the tent, everything’s all birds and breezes. You never want to go back inside to reality.

I’m tired of reality.

Here it is: We are two thirds of the way through the six months hospice indicated – with no signs of winding down. If it goes past six months, can I sue hospice for false advertising? I might anyway, based on that stupid picture on the cover of the brochure they sent home with us. It’s not right. And it makes me feel bad.

The photo is of a woman my age, embracing a woman my mother-in-law’s age in a comforting hug. One of the hospice workers assured me they were actors.

If they were real people, they would look sleep deprived, with twirling eyeballs. The medium-old woman would be covering her children’s ears while the really-old woman visibly swore a blue streak at anyone within reach. The photo on the back of the brochure would be of the family rifling through the hospice care package and taking the good drugs for themselves.

This, by the way, is why they send drugs in very, very small quantities. I used to think it was because the patient is on hospice and they don’t want to waste any leftovers – which would be very New Englandy of them. Now I realize it’s because the family will eventually be driven to take the drugs.

One nurse came on a particularly bad morning. She asked how things were going and I went into a Lewis Black-worthy rant which I won’t repeat here.

“But how is she feeling?” The nurse said. “Is she comfortable?”

“Who the **** cares?” is what I wanted to say. “Would you like to go see her now?” is what I did say.

The nurse got the royal treatment.

When she came back out to the livingroom, she got on the phone to the pharmacy, stat. “We need better drugs,” she said.

I find this reassuring. It’s weirdly comforting to have a stranger empathize with you – especially after she has categorized you as a self-centered jerk.

But as comforting as stranger empathization is (shut up, it is too a word), it doesn’t beat the tent.

Having the tent is like being a kid and running away from home because no one understands you and they won’t miss you anyway and won’t they be sorry once you’re gone. It doesn’t take far – halfway down the driveway? The other end of the yard? – before you start to realize that you might have been wrong.

They might not understand you, but it’s okay. They do miss you – and you miss them.

And you will be sorry when they’re gone.

So you go back with fresh eyes. Because sometimes you need to see things the way someone else sees them.

And that someone is in a tent.


I may have freaked out a little. If you looked around our house (which I will not permit), you would understand. It’s a disaster. There’s an outlet lying on the dining room floor. An empty Tupperware on the kitchen floor. A sock here, a dryer ball there, and all manner of whatnot in between. Every room is covered with abandoned stuff – none of which makes any sense.

“This is not how people who like their homes behave,” I said. “It looks like no one cares about the house.”

Sugarplum, who is the most neat-wired of the family, agreed. But then she said, “those houses where nothing is out of place look like no one cares, too. It’s like no one lives there.”

She stresses “lives.”

She inventories the infringements: no mail on the dining room table, no piles on the stairs, etc. “It’s kind of creepy,” she concluded. This is a problem with which we are unfamiliar.

Honestly, I don’t even know where she saw a house like that. If it’s your house and she came over to visit your kid, we can’t be friends anymore.

She has a point, though, and I need to remember that “lived in” is not always a euphemism for a giant pile of domestic rubble. We do, after all, live here. We love our house and – as far as we can tell – our house loves us. It holds our mail, catches our crumbs and lets us sort laundry in the hall. When we’re busy, it serves as a launching pad. When we’re tired, it gives us shelter.

Our house is like a mom – grabbing our lunch box after school, handing us our cleats, and telling us to have fun as we run off again without a backward glance. Sometimes it has stains on its shirt and is still wearing slippers as it stands waving at the door. It may also have forgotten to shower. These things happen. They don’t mean we appreciate it less. If anything, we appreciate it more.

Not every night can be bath night. Not every day is fresh-laundry-folded-and-put-away day. Our house looks put together when it wants to, but it has neither time nor patience for a wash and set.

Maybe when life is less hectic, our house will be tidy. Mail will be sorted at the door. No one will trip over sports equipment in the dining room. It will be dressed and made up, ready to change out of slippers to greet company at a moment’s notice.

But even then, I hope it never looses the feeling that all are welcome. That it’s okay to dump what you don’t need, grab what you do, and go live. I hope there are signs of life. It would be awfully lonely otherwise.

Everyone has their own place of comfort – probably somewhere between “social services needs to intervene” and “Stepford Wives.” For us – right now – the place of comfort is “clean on bath night.”

For us, baths are best when you’ve earned them.

Unconditional love (and no mice)

“Is she a rescue?” people ask.

This is one of those questions that makes you a hero if you answer properly. I don’t know what it does if you don’t.

A month ago we met a greyhound and realized she had been missing from our lives. She needed a home. We have a home. It was that simple. Zelda is now part of our family. She is gentle with the kids and has not eaten the cat (which some consider a failing).

I know the plight of greyhounds, but I cannot in all honesty say that I rescued her. It’s much more selfish than that. It feels like someone was giving out pots of rainbow gold and we happened to be the first caller.

Furthermore, the word “rescue” does not suit her. Zelda is not so much rescued as retired. She had an illustrious career on the racetrack and now has retired to the country.

She has a keen interest in ornithology, has joined the local garden club and is considering Celtic harp lessons. She hasn’t told me she wants harp lessons but I did find the Adult Continuing Education catalog in her bed with the Celtic Harp page torn out.

Conclusions were drawn.

Having a dog is a new experience for us. Over the years we’ve become very pragmatic. We have chickens who lay eggs. We have a cat who is supposed to keep the mouse population to a dull roar. We’ve considered a goat.

We love our friends’ dogs, but didn’t see how it made sense for us. Big bags of food, an obligation to walk and responsibility for another life did not add up to a good idea.

Having no reason to get a dog, and no compelling justification for one, we have been dogless all these years.

Needing a reason is highly overrated.

When the dog moved in, the mouse population moved out – something we thought might happen during the cat’s 12 year tenure. There was not a lot of hoopla. There were no headless rodents in the middle of the floor. They just moved.

Perhaps they felt outclassed. In the last month, Zelda has added an element of grace to our home and our family. I feel like English nobility when I walk her. She is elegant, gentle and graceful. And that’s just the external bit. She has given the kids a sense of responsibility. She encourages us to take walks as a family.

We do things for Zelda that we don’t do for ourselves. Love does that.

Adding grace and kindness to a home is at least as practical as backyard chickens. When did we become so pragmatic? At what point did we start needing to see a tangible benefit to things?

It turns out there is a tangible benefit after all. When you invite in qualities of grace and unconditional love, they take up lodging in the most unexpected places. Everywhere you look, you see their blessing.

Neighbors are kinder. Children are more thoughtful. Your own heart feels lighter.

That’s at least as good as scrambled eggs, and absolutely worth the price of Celtic harp lessons.

This column originally appeared in The Magazine of Yoga

The Apocalypse (or, if you prefer, Thursday)

Chris says the ground opened, which is what it feels like. Most of the lights don’t work and the house smells like melted appliances. The ground opened, and in we fell. I didn’t think this was supposed to happen until December.

Electricity is coming into the house at 220 because the ground wire went down in the latest storm onslaught. That’s not a good thing.

We’re not sure what survived, appliance-wise. When we open the refrigerator it looks like an alien spaceship is coming at us. (I mean the light, not the leftovers.) The kids are psyched because first everything was dark and then, just as they were done getting ready for school by flashlight, the house went into Demonic Possession mode. They’d flip a switch in one room, and a light would come on in another. It was awesome. I could barely get them out the door.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my mother-in-law has short term memory loss so we’ve been over what’s going on a million times in the last 15 minutes.

Note: There is something uniquely horrible about not knowing what’s going on and having to tell someone the specifics of what you don’t know and have no power over, repeatedly.

We started with the long story, and then moved to the abbreviated version:

“There’s no power.”

“Is someone going to make me some toast?”

(Rinse. Repeat.)

I think if we stabbed a piece of bread with a fork and then stuck the end of the fork in an outlet, it just might work.

NSTAR deemed it dangerous and advised us to throw the main breaker until they could send a crew.

(Long pause in which we wait and then give up, going to bed at 9 because what else are we supposed to do? There’s no internet and I am all caught up on my counted cross stitch by candlelight.)

I wake up to an authoritative knock on the door. A tall, handsome NSTAR man is in my garden. Behind him, my lawn is crawling with utility workers in foul weather gear.

You don’t realize how many windows you have until you are sitting in total darkness, with searchlights bouncing off every wall in your house from outside. It’s like a movie. Let me just say that I really hope the people who are inches from my windows, scaling my walls and shining searchlights all over my lawn in the dark of night are always using their power for good, not evil.

If the neighbors ask what all the search lights were for, I’m going to tell them Sugarplum lost her gerbil.

Appliance death-toll to come. Stay tuned.

P.S. Thank you, NSTAR

Death Toll: furnace, oven, toaster, coffee maker, mother-in-law’s radio, assorted lights…. (still taking inventory)