As a young man I had good vocal cords and dreamed of becoming a famous singer. Considering my teenage background in the church choir and in Gilbert and Sullivan high school productions, the drama teacher suggested that singing my way into the opera world seemed a possible choice. However, there was one problem. The music teacher told me that operatic heroes shouldn’t be shorter than the soprano they are wooing.

I stand 5’4” in my stocking feet.

True some opera singers, like renowned tenor Joseph Schmidt, coming in at just under five feet and considered too short for live performances in the opera house, reached fame doing recordings.

But I craved the stage, the audience. If opera was out, I’d find another musical forum. So, I plowed on with my dream. More… “These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking”

Thomas Laver is a former singer and teacher. He was a writer for the education division of TVO, the Public Television Network of the Province of Ontario, Canada. His writing has also appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Heart Insight Magazine, Canadian Teacher Magazine, and Our Canada, a Reader’s Digest publication.


Since the winter of 1995, I have had an ongoing love affair. It has continued even to this day, nearly 21 years later. I have been engaged in this romance, if you will, during the course of several relationships and my marriage. I have always been open and honest about my love for Luciano and I will continue to maintain the open and honest attitude about him in any future relationships.

People change over time. Relationships change and evolve, or end. However, Luciano is the one constant in my life. While my thoughts and ideas about him have changed, I can say the changes are positive ones. That is, as I have matured, the way that I think of him has also matured. As I have spent the years watching him, drinking in every nuance of his movements as he speaks or walks across a room, I have moved beyond a mere infatuation. I have become enamored by him: his presence, his work and humanitarianism, and his care and compassion for others. More… “My Love Affair with Luciano”

Stephanie L. Haun holds an MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Creative Nonfiction from Queens University of Charlotte.  When she isn’t teaching or scrambling to meet deadlines, Stephanie is a Perry Mason fanatic, an avid knitter, and a sometimes trombonist.

Jennifer Higdon is an American composer born in Atlanta, Georgia. Her concertos have earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Music and a Grammy Award. Cold Mountain is her first opera, and it was co-commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia. She was reached by phone at her home in Philadelphia. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ML: How is composing for opera different from the composition work you’ve done in the past?

JH: It’s really different, first of all, because you’re trying to take care of actual characters in a story. You have to think about, because opera is over two hours, how you structure something musically so that it’s interesting for the audience. You also have to think about what kind of music depicts these characters. Basically I’m trying to figure out how to draw an aural picture of these people, but it’s really hard. More… “Accented Arias”

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.


Everyone has a first time. My initiation into the sublime and absurd world of grand opera came not with my attendance at a legendary performance or under the tutelage of an impassioned connoisseur but through a chance encounter with a bizarre musical experiment conceived by Malcolm McLaren, former manager of the Sex Pistols and craven self-promoter. It happened like this. One day in the mid-‘80’s I was half-listening to an innocuous pop ballad on the radio when there arose from the drum machines and synthesizers a surging female voice unlike any I had ever heard — or at least paid attention to — before. As the aria, which turned out to be “Un bel dì” from Madame Butterfly, floated over me, my only thought was: How can anything be so beautiful?

I wish I could say that from that moment I became a passionate convert to all things operatic, but in fact I went on listening to rock ‘n’ roll and even now have got around to only a dozen or so works in the operatic repertory. Yet one of those works is Madame Butterfly, and if on the radio that day I hadn’t heard Malcolm McLaren’s gleefully debased six-minute version — identified by the disc jockey as the first of six workings of Puccini on an album by McLaren called Fans — I might never have known grand opera at all. Although I no longer need to listen to opera with the electric guitars, drum tracks, and pop vocal choruses so helpfully provided by McLaren, I occasionally go back to Fans to marvel at its audacious and bizarrely sympathetic settings of some of Puccini’s most sumptuous music. More… “A Fan of Fans

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.


On a gray morning in Paris, I pushed back the heavy velvet curtains in my hotel room. There, just across the street, almost close enough to touch, was Charles Garnier’s extravagant opera house — the Palais Garnier. I didn’t know where to look first. The Corinthian columns with gilt capitals? The rose granite friezes? the shiny tips of gold Pegasus wings?


I left the curtain open and padded into the bathroom. A glance in the mirror over the sink revealed a sight anything but grand: the face, so pale; the multidirectional hair, frizzy with split ends; the pajamas, gaping around the shoulders. After gazing at the confectionary Opera, my reflection nearly gave me culture shock.

Mustn’t look in the mirror again today, I thought, and dressed quickly, keeping my gaze trained out the window.

The Opera’s busy style… More…

“Long live the knife, the blessed knife!” screamed ecstatic female fans at opera houses as the craze for Italian castrati reached its peak in the 18th century — a cry that was supposedly echoed in the bedrooms of Europe’s most fashionable women.

The brainwave to create castrati had first occurred two centuries earlier in Rome, where the pope had banned women singing in churches or on the stage. Their voices became revered for the unnatural combination of pitch and power, with the high notes of a pre-pubescent boy wafting from the lungs of an adult; the result, contemporaries said, was magical, ethereal and strangely disembodied. But it was the sudden popularity of Italian opera throughout 1600s Europe that created the international surge in demand. Italian boys with promising voices would be taken to a back-street barber-surgeon, drugged with opium, and placed in a hot bath. The expert would snip the… More…