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I had the great fortune to hear world renowned operatic singer Renee Fleming at the William Saroyan opera house on March 27, and the evening was full of surprises. My first surprise was that Fresno will now go down in history for me as the friendliest city in America. As I was waiting in line to enter the concert hall I started chatting with several strangers. Mike, from FSU, learned that I had only been in the city for several weeks, and was nice enough to offer to have coffee and show me around. Marty, whose husband had a sporting event that evening and couldn’t attend, invited me to sit with her in the first balcony. As we were headed to our seats, she explained that she sometimes sang in the opera chorus and then introduced me to two other friendly patrons seated in the row immediately behind us– Community Regional’s chief of cardiology, Dr. John Ambrose and his wife Avis. That’s when Avis leaned over to Marty and said, “Did you hear what’s going on?” This was surprise number two.
What she was referring to was the fact that the empty orchestra chairs would remain that way. A strike was preventing the musicians from playing that evening. Less then 2 hours before the concert was to start – Ms Fleming had a conductor but no musicians. While our opera–savvy friends mused about how the situation could be handled, the concert hall buzzed. Would the event be cancelled? Would an agreement with the musicians be reached at the last moment? “This is more interesting than bypass surgery,” joked Dr. Ambrose.
As we waited to see what would happen, I wondered to myself, “How does the most talented opera singer in the world handle a complete meltdown like this?” What came next was a lesson in how to manage life’s twists and turns.
On the stage, they had placed two comfortable yellow chairs with a coffee table – probably not a typical set up for an opera. Twelve musicians including a master violinist then walked on stage to take their seats. The next 90 minutes were a masterful mixture of singing and off-the-cuff stories shared by both Renee and her conductor. It seemed so much more intimate an experience and was really wonderful. They had made lemonade out of lemons to the delight of everyone in the audience because they were willing to be creative.
Opera stars are known to be divas, so I really looked for hints of irritation in her mannerism or speech, but there was none. She was completely at ease and showed her witty sense of humor throughout the evening. I can’t keep my composure in heavy traffic, so I was pretty impressed.
The above is one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill. Before the Director introduced Ms. Fleming he came on stage and explained that a few years ago he had been approached about starting an opera company in Fresno and people had said – it doesn’t have a chance. Then he explained that he wanted to bring in Andrea Boccelli to sing at the SaveMart center and people had said – impossible. So it’s not surprising that the guy who had accomplished the first two would not disappoint us this evening. You gotta love that.
I firmly believe that a meaningful and rewarding work life has to be complemented by a rich and rewarding personal life, so while it might not be opera, I’d love to hear what events and venues you enjoy with your families here in Fresno.