Advanced Search | Search A!:
Volume 26, Number 6 — June 2019

Passion for Opera: Never Miss a Chance to Attend

Herb and Barbara Dittmar, shown dancing at an Opera Ball, attend at least 30 opera performances each year.
Herb and Barbara Dittmar, shown dancing at an Opera Ball, attend at least 30 opera performances each year.
Additional photos below »

The Details, Excitement of Live Opera


Mary Jane Miller Loves the "Details"

Mary Jane is an interior designer in Bristol, Va. The first opera she ever attended was Aida in Rome, Italy when she was 17. She says, "For decades I have spent plenty of time in New York City and often end up at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to see the Met. One of my Connecticut friends is on their opera guild so, with him, I attended the 40th anniversary production of I Puritani starring Joan Sutherland. The audience was black-tie and star-studded."

She adds, "Even though the Lincoln Center is a gorgeous venue, it is so large that it is difficult to see the details and faces. Now I get to half the performances broadcast at Tinseltown [in Bristol] and would probably attend more if my work travel schedule allowed."

Mary Jane continues, "As an interior designer specializing in detail, I was excited to see some of these new productions introducing 'virtual scenery' and the producers going backstage for interviews and technical information for the audience. The first opera broadcast I attended in Bristol was The Damnation of Faust. The cinematography was fabulous — the audience could see every little detail on stage — too much so, maybe. The main 'love interest' in this opera is Margaurite. At one point, she is brushing her hair in her boudoir. I stared in horror because her brush was some cheap, plastic, contemporary utensil with vinyl bristles. It should have been either silver or wood with boar bristles to match the period of the opera. When I mentioned this to my friends they said, 'Only YOU would ever notice something like that.' I still have not lived that down. But I emailed the Met because if they are to continue with all the close-ups, I felt they needed to know that the audience was savvy and would notice period discrepancies. I was surprised and pleased when they responded positively to the hair brush criticism."

Herb and Barbara Dittmar Go to the Opera More than 30 Times Each Year

Herb was born in Chicago, Ill., but his German parents moved back to their home-land when he was a small child. He returned to the U.S. after he graduated from college and spent most of his career in academics (teaching, librarian).

Herb grew up attending opera in Germany, which subsidizes student tickets. When he met Barbara, now an executive at Bristol Compressors International, Inc., he already had an interest in classical music; together they developed a mutual interest in voice and opera. They've been married 35 years and have been avid opera fans for the last 20 years.

Barbara has attended opera for nearly 40 years, beginning while she was in college. She says, "Like anything else, the more you know about it, read about it and listen to it, the more you get hooked — like NASCAR." A die-hard opera fan, Barbara subscribes to Opera News, and she picks up copies of the British publication Opera Now at Barnes & Noble in Johnson City, Tenn.

She continues, "It's hard to live in Southwest Virginia and attend live opera performances unless you have the means to do so. Luckily, Herb and I are fortunate enough to do that now. We endorse the 'Met in HD' broadcast, but there's nothing like a live performance. Opera incorporates all the arts: visual, music, dance, acting, costumes, scenery — and voice is the ultimate instrument."

Barbara notes, "We usually see at least 30 productions each year. One year we set a record: 36! Last year we saw six operas in one week when we went to New York City for New Year's Eve, and we have season tickets to the Washington (D.C.) National Opera, which does seven productions per season. We go to European productions 2-3 times a year. Last year we went to Munich in October to hear a famous German tenor singing in a Wagnerian opera, and we ended up seeing three operas. This year we went in May and August, and we plan to go back for New Year's."

The Dittmars also support U.S. opera in Knoxville, Tenn.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Asheville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Greensboro, N.C.

Jack and Sylvia White Share Passion for Opera

Jack is a retired attorney and Sylvia is a real estate broker in Abingdon, Va.

Jack says, "I have been a classical music fan since college, but she was far ahead of me. Sylvia worked in New York for two years after college, before we were married (50 years ago on April 30). She was a college textbook editor at MacMillan and lived on a VERY tight budget. Yet, she and her roommate, a college friend, tried to see every new Met production from the nosebleed gallery, as well as Saturday matinees of the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein. On one of my first trips to New York while we were dating, I recall she took me to a performance of Handel's Ode for St. Cecelia's Day with Bernstein conducting. Since our marriage, Sylvia has listened to the Saturday Met radio performances, been a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild, read opera books, etc. I began seeing and listening to opera with her and now truly love it."

For several years the Whites and a group of friends who also enjoy opera attended productions of the Knoxville Opera. "This was before the historic Tennessee Theatre was refurbished, and most of those productions were at the Tennessee in its old faded glory. We would drive to Knoxville on Sunday morning, meet at the Hyatt Regency for a brunch buffet, and go from there to the matinee performance of the opera. Those were fine days," Jack recalls. "My wife and I also saw a few productions of Opera Carolina when our daughter-in-law, who lives in Charlotte, was a member of one of its boards. She and our son would take us, or let us have their tickets if they planned to be out of town."

He notes, "All this was before opera budgets became so tight. The Knoxville Opera, for example, every year presented five or six productions with two performances each. Now, regional companies like Knoxville and Charlotte have been reduced to three and four operas each year, filling the gaps with concerts and other fluff. In fact, I just looked at the Opera Roanoke web site and its whole season seems to be concerts of opera music, with no staged productions."

"If you can't bring Muhammed to the mountain,
you bring the mountain to Muhammed."

"Into that gap the Metropolitan Opera, under its innovative new manager, boldly stepped, offering performances of some of its most popular productions on the big screen, worldwide, in color and high definition, with surround sound. Production and camera work for these video presentations have been exceptional, causing many viewers to say the experience exceeds that of all but the best seats in New York, and even they may not be as good," White says.

"Moreover, the cast interviews, views of set changes and other backstage features during the intermissions add a dimension to these theater showings that even the highest of the high rollers in New York cannot see. And some wags have noted that we pay $22 to watch superb big-screen performances of these operas, while those at the Met itself may pay $100 (or more) for their seats — and they cannot eat popcorn [like we do in Bristol]!"

White continues, "The success of the presentations at Tinseltown has been due, in very large part, to the dogged efforts of Bill Campbell [in Abingdon]. What that man has done in this area, both for opera and classical music in general, is almost unbelievable. He taught classical music courses for several terms at the College for Older Adults, which had a large and loyal following [at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center]; and the preparation and quality were unmatched. Then, almost single-handedly, he has made the Met showings at Tinseltown into something [the theatre managers] enthusiastically support and consistently attracts 60 to 100 people for the broadcasts."

— Music Bridges Gap Between Generations

Topics: Family, Music, Opera

Jean Bratton (center) is in her 90s and lives in Emory, Va.; she attends Metropolitan Opera performances in New York City at least once a year and goes to the broadcasts in Bristol. Discussing the upcoming opera season with her are Jack and Sylvia White, opera lovers from Abingdon, Va.