I’ve never been a huge fan of opera music. I’ve seen 2 operas in my entire life, O Pioneers (based off the book by Nebraskan author Willa Cather) on a 6th grade field trip, and Phantom of the Opera, the movie (does that count?). But something happened recently that made me want to give it another chance and reminded me that music of any genre can be one of the most cherished and powerful gifts.
It was on a hospital visit with a charity called Sing for Hope, where I and two other volunteers prepared music to serenade the patients. One of the performers was an operatic soprano. The evening was filled with poignant and sentimental moments, as music often brings out emotion in the most unsuspecting people. And in a hospital setting, a place most dread to be, it was amazing to see the smiles and appreciation on the faces of those we sang to.
We entered a room of two older ladies who had been placed together as roommates. From the very start, we could tell they would be characters. In high spirits and smiling, these ladies weren’t going to let anything keep them down. A fellow vocalist made the introductions and asked the patients, “Is there anything special you would like to hear? Do you like opera music?” To my surprise, one lady nodded with an enthusiastic “yes.” She adored opera music and began rattling off arias in Italian.
The soprano looked pleased and asked how she knew so many.
“When I was little, I used to clean the house every Saturday listening to the Metropolitan Opera with my nut-job mother!”
The room erupted in laughter. Soon, the soprano poised herself and began to sing.
As soon as she opened her mouth, it was as if the room went completely calm. The machines stopped beeping. Everyone relaxed. Our breath was longer, our heads tilted in attention. Her voice rose and fell with ease and though we couldn’t understand the language, her facial expression helped tell the story. Her brow was furrowed with anguish, her eyes moistened with longing, her arms and hands reached out, pleading with an invisible partner.
I was so surprised by how much I was enjoying the song, that I had to suddenly remember where I was. I looked around the room and noticed that the patient was crying. Her good-natured teasing spirit had quieted, and now she was in a different world. I remembered what she said about her mother, most likely deceased by now, and wondered what memories were flashing through her mind.
The end of the song was met with heartfelt applause. The patient wiped tears from her face and composed herself to speak. She made several attempts, but was too overwhelmed to reply for a minute. We all waited patiently as we could sense that she really wanted this to be known. And then, after a final tear was wiped away, she said in a shaky tone,
“That was a gift from my mother, up in Heaven.”