L’amour est enfant de bohème

A morning opera rehearsal in Columbus, Ohio. The singers are a wonderful group at the beginning of their careers, full of energy and talent. Carmen drapes her arms around  José and promises him freedom.

Every few seconds, I can hear a familiar buzzing in my purse. When the director stops to work on a bit of dialogue, I put down my baton and pull out my phone to turn it off.

It’s all over my screen. She’s gone.

When I got to know her, twenty-five years ago, she had just completed a national bus-and-truck tour of Carmen with a whole raft of singers who became my new instant colleagues. In those heady and terrifying apprentice years, they were the artists just ahead of me. They were Doing Things. They worked with the ease of professionals and joked with an intimacy forged on dozens of shared stages and late-night confessionals.

They were a wonderful group at the beginning of their careers, full of energy and talent.

“Dites-moi, brigadier,” says Carlos, in the Columbus rehearsal, but my head’s still a quarter century in the past, in San Francisco, where Hector is honking out that particular line of dialogue in elongated nasal tones.

“Qu’est-ce que c’est ce grand batimeeeeeeennnnnnnnnt?” The Carmen crowd falls out laughing. Jesus, they’re cool, and I hang around them, the greedy new kid adopting their stances and their lingo. Soon, I meet the remarkable and strange acting coach whose nasal tones they are spoofing, I learn some of the stories behind the jokes. Slowly, I become part of that fascinating extended family. They teach me that theater skill of flocking together, birds on a wire, chattering and bonding and singing for a time before flying away to the next wire, the next group.

I never get to know her well, but for the first dozen years of my opera life she is always around, always kind, always a pleasure to be with. One day in New York, we have lunch together, and she gives me great and desperately needed life advice as if we were close enough for me to deserve that from her.

Back in Columbus, back in this moment, I can still hear her beautiful voice in my head singing Wagner, and Strauss, and Mozart, and Heggie.


These days, I often wonder what it would have been like to sink deeper roots into the ground instead of following every wind that blew. I look too much at the empty wire after the birds have scattered. But love can be broad and patchwork even as it can be deep and true. When those birds find each other again, they remember their song.

Here we are in Columbus, old friends and new, oiseaux rebelles, in this moment. Thank you for the advice, Kris, you were right. And thanks for living a life that shines so brightly across so many hearts even as you take your leave.

Carmen sings:

The open sky, the vagabond life,

The whole universe for your homeland and your own will as law,

And above all the most intoxicating thing:


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