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When the Mayor Takes a Break

October 13, 1985|TOM BRADLEY

'As anyone in public life can attest, there's often a need to get away from it all. Sometimes it's enough to merely switch from one task to another. Other times, I manage to get away without leaving the office--get away to a pastime I've found soothing all my life. I listen to opera.

My first exposure to opera was in a Los Angeles elementary school, as part of our cultural enrichment program (that's why I strongly support the Educational Opera Assn. program of John Arnold Ford, which the city has funded for several years). I remember how we all groaned when we heard that we'd have to listen to opera. Surely, we thought, we'd be bored by a lot of "tra-la-la" in a foreign language. Instead we heard a variety of pieces by various composers. If we all didn't become fans, I think most of us got a feeling for what opera is: a story told with musical instruments, the greatest of which is the human voice.

For me, opera is a soothing, relaxing experience. My earliest favorite was "Carmen." I still find myself keeping time to its lively songs, such as The Toreador's Song and the street boys' chorus. I especially like Bizet's flute and the string work in the melodic songs like the cigarette girls' chorus. The girls' voices and the soldiers' weave together softly, then build to a dramatic climax that never fails to thrill me.

It's interesting to note that the most popular operas written a century ago portray women in a strong light, with tenacity and purpose. There's Carmen, strong-willed and independent, who ruins a young soldier's life; there's Verdi's Aida, prepared to give up her life and love for her country; and Puccini's Madama Butterfly, and his poor, brave Mimi in "La Boheme." Then there are the heroic figures that Wagner wrote such grand music for, and the bright, happy characters of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and "Figaro."

I also enjoy the variety of stories and the drama of opera's characters. Some knowledge of history is helpful for appreciating opera, but it isn't necessary. The stories use plot lines that have entertained since the beginning of time: good versus evil, love won and lost. The difference in opera is that the music tells the story. You don't need to know the words to understand.

The diversity of the human voice and the diversity of music for the voice in opera are truly amazing.

On days when I am alone, facing the piles of paper work on my desk, I'm grateful to have opera as my companion." PRODUCED BY LINDEN GROSS

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