Grand Opera in Two Acts
A baby was born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in Fort Worth, Texas. The father seemed happy about the birth. The mother was extra happy, thanks to the C-section. Big brother, not so much. But, alas, something was wrong. The light- ing? The outfit? The big brother who probably taunted the precious baby when the parents turned their heads? Perhaps the baby boy sensed the disappointment that he was not “Katy,” the hoped-for girl who was to have been named for the maternal grandmother.
Regardless of the reason, the newborn cried for two years. Perhaps he was a tiny, red-faced soothsayer seeing a glimpse of the future, the grand opera that, in two thirty-five-year-each acts, was just beginning. It was the start of a wild life full of “you can’t make this up” moments, just like opera.
I set my sail toward opera land, with a good dose of Opryland thrown in. The decision was made for me by some opera director in the sky. He/she also decided what kind of opera it would be and what role I would play. My voice, temperament, and body type suited the lighter opera buffa, or comic operas, specifically Mozart. There’s lots of tomfoolery, fun, and even some gender- bending roles. How delightful! Yes, please.
But no, the regisseur (the “big cheese”) ignored opera buffa and chose verismo for the libretto of my life.
Verismo marks a period when opera composers started getting real, writing about daily life. The stories got gritty and dramatic—and explicit. Most are in four acts. That’s a lot of Tim. That’s the hand I was dealt. No Mozart for me (although that is what I eventually moved to Switzerland to sing).
Opera buffa focuses on gods, mythological figures, or kings and queens. It is all kind of “pretty”: little ballet numbers, beautiful costumes (I absolutely love the latest fashion from 1750). Verismo was going to be the story of my life.
Verismo focuses on the average contemporary man and woman and their problems. Check. Generally, that means of a sexual, romantic, or violent nature. In my case, I’d use two out of these three. There was always a terminal illness. Check. Sadly, this included an uber-dramatic tenor running around the room with tales of woe (enter Tim’s real life). The baritone, me, would be a priest,
10 Tale of Two Tims
a general fix-it guy, a soothsayer, or just someone who stirs the pot. I have my own stirrer. The props master need not provide that.
Let’s look closer at how that pertains to my plot.
Yes to god(s). Lots of them. “It’s complicated.”
Yes to queens. Lots of those. “More, please.”
Yes to sex and romance. “It’s complicated, delicious, and disastrous.”
Yes to terminal illnesses. “It’s my life since age thirty-six.”
No to mythological figures, kings, and violence. At least no violence. Operas have very clear villains and heroes. In creating the plot, we must
decide how many acts and how many scenes. The Guinness Book of World Records says it’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
by Richard Wagner, which boasts five hours and fifteen minutes of music. I have a lot more music than that.
For my opera, we are going with a much simpler two-act affair. Each will cover about thirty-five years. There will be a long intermission (with a two-drink minimum). The scene changes dramatically between Acts I and II. The stage crew has to change the scenery completely. When we told the costume designers about the “look” of the first act, they almost walked out. When we told them about Act II, they decided to stay! There will be two completely different casts, except for perhaps five people who appear in both. There will be no crossover until the dream sequence for the finale, when both casts come together and actually get along.
There you have it. The baby boy prepared himself by crying for the first two years, and then the fun began. There has been a great deal of crying and unspeakable amounts of joy as well.
The fat lady will sing. It might be my mother. She was on a diet for her entire life. I am not in charge of casting the roles.
Curtain up on Tim: The Opera.