Opera Mysteries by Barbara Paul

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A Cadenza for Caruso

Prima Donna at Large

A Chorus of Detectives

"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Corpse"

Opera Mysteries

      How I Got Hooked on Opera

        by Barbara Paul

It's all Risė Stevens's fault.

THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIERWhen I was a child, she made a movie with Nelson Eddy called The Chocolate Soldier. I went into that movie mad. Who is this woman who's taking Jeanette MacDonald's place? And what kind of name is "Rise" Stevens anyway? (Diaresis didn't mean a whole lot to me at that age.) Anyhow, this interloper had a lot to prove. And prove it she did. I absolutely fell in love with her. I loved her looks, her style, her voice -- most of all, I loved her voice. It was the first time I'd known that a woman's voice could be low and also beautiful. All I knew about music was what I learned from the movies, and the movies were going in big for birdchirpy sopranos in those days.

There was one scene in The Chocolate Soldier in which Risė Stevens's character was in a moony, romantic sort of mood. So she leaned against a window frame, looked up at the night sky, and sang an English-language version of "Evening Star" from Tannhäuser. It was a couple of years before I learned that that was a baritone aria, but what the heck. It was wonderful.

CarmenShortly after that, Risė Stevens appeared in Going My Way with Bing Crosby. In that one, she put on a black wig, sashayed out onto the stage of the Metropolitan Opera, and sang the "Habanera" from Carmen. It was the most exciting thing I had heard in my life.

I went around telling everyone about this brand new singer I had discovered all by myself. Some kind-hearted adult suggested I might try listening for her on The Firestone Hour and The Telephone Hour. At that time those were back-to-back Monday-night radio programs that featured different musical guests each week.

Then one night when my new singing discovery had indeed appeared on one of them, an announcer closed the program by saying: "Thank you, Risė Stevens, for being our guest this evening. We'll be listening for you in the broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons."

Opera broadcasts? Saturday afternoons? Well, okay...I'd give 'em a try.

Risë Stevens So I started tuning in to the Met broadcasts -- not to hear the operas, but to listen for Risė Stevens. But you can't sit with your ear glued to a radio for four straight hours Saturday after Saturday without hearing something. Eventually it dawned on me that by golly, there were tunes in there! It wasn't all screechin' and hollerin' after all! In fact, it was kind of nice.

With that realization, I was hooked...and I've stayed hooked all my life. I've been an opera fanatic ever since I was eleven years old, and I deeply regret it took me that long to catch on.

Many years later I received a form letter soliciting funds for the Metropolitan Opera Guild. It was signed by...Risė Stevens. Now, how did they know that was a name that would make me reach for my checkbook?

It's the least I can do, considering how great a gift she gave me.

Page created June 27, 1995; last updated 24 October 2006.