Wednesday, May 31, 1967. I was a 13-year-old eighth grade student. My mother took me—at my urging—to see a performance of Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin presented at Philadelphia’s Convention Hall as part of a nationwide tour by the Metropolitan Opera. Lohengrin is a mythic tale that concerns a knight of mysterious origins who appears in the medieval Duchy of Brabant to defend the honor of a maiden, Elsa, who had been targeted with base rumors and false accusations. The morally-pure Lohengrin, a defender of truth, embraces the role of Elsa’s Protector. In Lohengrin, two irreconcilable worlds collide: Lohengrin’s dream world of enchantment, which captivates the lonely and idealistically naive Elsa, and the bleak world of a demoralized dukedom.
Sandor Konya, the Hungarian tenor, sang the title role. It was the first opera performance I had ever seen. At the end of the evening, as my mother and I were walking out of Convention Hall, I overheard an opera-goer say, “That opera was awful. It didn’t have any memorable tunes. It had no memorable arias.” I remember feeling insulted by her comments.
And the following day? Well . . . “There is a poignant section in Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks,” writes Colin Wilson, “that describes the young Hanno Buddenbrooks going to a performance of Lohengrin, and how, the next morning, he gets up to go to school, now hating the world he lives in, the cold dawn, the thin drizzle, the smell of wet garments in the schoolroom. There is the romantic Outsider’s problem in essence; and there are the two worlds, the ecstatic, vital world of Lohengrin and the dull world of the schoolboy.” Fortunately, my mother let me stay home from school following the previous evening’s musical adventure.
Upon arrival in school on Friday I handed over my absence note to the homeroom teacher. My mother explained that I had stayed home the previous day because I had attended the opera. Coincidentally, the homeroom teacher was an opera fan. He excitedly told me that he himself had been to the Met’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot earlier in the week. He said it was amazing to see the singers Franco Corelli and Birgit Nilsson in the title roles “going at each other.” His name was Mr. Corn . . . something . . . I don’t remember the whole surname. He was a substitute math teacher. My regular homeroom teacher, Mrs. McKay was out.
Maybe fellow homeroom student David Freund, a friend, remembers him. I wonder if David’s mother, Florence ever took him to the opera. I recall one occasion when our science teacher talked about the Florence flask used in labs, and David said, “My mother’s name is Florence!” I remembered that. My mother’s middle name was Florence. That was my maternal grandmother’s first name, too.