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Monday, November 23 2015 09:17

Let me confess: the two final concerts of the Grateful Dead awoke no nostalgia in me.  I can claim no share in the ecstatic fervor of the seventy thousand fans who twice gathered in Chicago to say goodbye.

Some of these fans are my age peers. Many of them, I understand, are Republicans. To be a Deadhead counts for many people as a profound and lasting experience.

But musical love cannot be forced.  The Dead, however significant they might be, never caught my musical curiosity. 

I have also remained deaf to other greats like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.  They have been acclaimed by millions – perhaps justly – but they could never count me in their fan base.

For some reason, though, I do relish what the Beatles accomplished. For me, they were entertainers par excellence, musicians whom I still enjoy.

And I still love the music of the twentieth century Broadway stage. Sometimes I attempt to recreate this beautiful material on the piano when nobody is around.

I have inherited my parents’ taste for Rogers and Hammerstein, and I continue to marvel at Cole Porter.

Nowadays, among the other wonders I enjoy the work of Stephen Sondheim. Never will I forget seeing on the Broadway stage his “Sunday in the Park With George.”

And, going back much further, I still love the music of Scott Joplin. beautifully recovered by the late Gunther Schuller, former president of the New England Conservatory.

All that being said, I still award first place to the classical musicians. Opera, especially, grabbed my interest long ago and continues to claim my heart.

My feeling for opera was largely owed to Peg.  She was a dear college friend of my mother, and she became a member of my family when I was a young teenager.

Following a doctor’s advice, she had given up living and working in Manhattan for the peace and quiet of a family with six children.

Before leaving New York, she had come to know Eleanor Steber, then one of the Metropolitan Opera’s leading sopranos. Miss Steber lived in Peg’s building and became a good friend.

That’s why I saw and heard my first opera when the Met brought Verdi’s “La Traviata” to Boston. Peg took me to the Boston Opera house on Huntington Avenue, a large building originally capable of holding some three thousand people.

What made it special for us was Eleanor Steber having the starring role of Violetta.

When the opera ended, Peg took me backstage to Eleanor’s dressing room. Memory of some seventy years brigs back a vision of the singer in full costume and still breathless from her efforts.

Another memory of the Boston Opera House dates from the later 1940s. By that time I had come to know opera better.  My favorite singer then was the Swedish tenor Jussi Björling, and I was determined to see him perform.

Entering by a side door, I climbed up to the second balcony and prepared for a Saturday afternoon’s enjoyment.  At the end of the first act I turned to the fellow next to me, full of enthusiasm for my idol’s performance.

“Björling is not performing at all today,” he said. 

Had I entered the opera house by the front door I would have seen the large placard announcing the substitution. 

Jussi’s famous taste for booze may have explained his absence. But at other times it did not spoil his vocal performances once he reached the stage.

Incidentally, some old-time veterans of the arts in Boston still regret the 1957 demolition of the old Opera House.  Northeastern University bought the property from the Shubert brothers, and it served for a time as a parking lot.

However, the Opera House launched me on a lifetime of wonderful musical experiences. The Deadheads can keep their mystique; I’m still committed to operatic song.