The View from the Pit
I write opera librettos these days. But the first operas I saw were years ago, when I was a trumpet student at the University of Southern California.
I wasn’t much interested in opera, but as a trumpet major I was required to play in just about every music department program. The USC Opera director, Walter Ducloux, chose two operas to present that year. I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, but both were rarely performed and both were wonderful.
The first was Mozart’s Idomeneo. Though it’s popular now, in those days it was almost unknown in the U.S. and hadn’t even been premiered until 1947. I enjoyed the music but honestly was bored at times because my part, second trumpet, consisted mostly of boop-boop-boop, then three pages of rests.
The second opera was Mathis der Maler by Paul Hindemith—not the popular symphony but the full Wagnerian opera, which, including intermissions, lasted over three hours. The American premiere of Mathis had been just ten years before and, given the opera’s size and scope, had probably only been done once or twice in the intervening years, if that. Even today, the full opera is rarely programmed, so very few people have ever heard it. The music featured brass in many places, with some glorious chorales. I loved every minute of it—and there were many, many minutes. (One of those minutes is shown in this photo of that long-ago production.)
The funny thing about seeing my first two operas was that, because I played in the orchestra pit, facing the conductor, I literally never saw them. But I certainly heard them, and they still echo today.