a) Before I was born
b) when I was small
c) when I fell in lust with an opera singer on the Parkinson show
d) Three Tenors concert 1990
No, Zoe, you got it all wrong. I don't love opera, I just go for the stalking...!
My father was very into opera, and my parents' first date was a trip to Rosenkavalier when the Royal Opera was on tour in Manchester about ten years before I was born.
We didn't have telly when I was little; we had radio, and the radio was often on, on Radio 3, as I sat immobile and engossed in my books as a small child.
Then we got telly and one Christmas just before I became a teenager (but was most definitely a teenager in moodiness!) I was forced to watch telly en famille. Crappy middle-England middle-class middle-age light entertainment telly. Parkinson. None of the guests was interesting. I'm not sure I'd even heard of them. Time to go to my room. But oh no, it's Christmas, let's play happy families zombied out in front of the TV. The TV that for all the rest of the year - Songs of Praise excepted - was a Bad Thing. But because we were playing Happy Families, I had to watch 'some boring opera singer' on Parkinson.
Almost thirteen, bursting with hormones, vulnerable to teenage crushes.
"Cor, he's a bit fit!" I thought. Then he sang. That was it. Love at first sight. And I insisted on watching him in Les Contes D'Hoffman a few days later on BBC2.
But you have to remember that in the Eighties, and even into the Nineties, records and then CDs cost a fortune. Probably more, in cash terms, than they do nowadays. Only four TV channels, no video (until 1990). It's hard to maintain a crush when the crush object is only on TV once or twice a year, when recordings are beyond the reach of pocket money or student grant. It's hard to be an opera fan in Manchester (in those days: it's improved with the opening of the Lowry Centre at Salford Quays). My mate did Music A-Level, and commented that it's all very well studying opera in a dry academic way, but not much use when you don't have the records at home because you can't afford them.
And then there's time. When you work full-time and combine it first with studying for a professional qualification and then with being a Lambeth councillor. And when you work for an employer that expects you to drop everything to go off on a week's audit at little notice. And money. When you are constantly in debt thanks to the 29.5% interest imposed on "Graduation Loans" - £150 a month to pay back my loan, when my starting salary in 1989 was £9,250. When your disposable income is spent on meeting up with friends - before they had babies or moved to far-flung places. When you really don't feel comfortable going places alone, and it's impossible to organise friends to do stuff, other than meet up for drinks or come round for dinner. And when the lazy media portray opera as expensive. But I retained my adoration for that gorgeous singer I had first encountered on Parkinson in December 1980, even though, inevitably, over time, one's fervour rises and falls.
I did start collecting operatic CDs and the occasional video in the early 90s, but the bulk of my collection was compilations and highlights. Being a councillor, as well as a full time accountant, left little headspace for intellectual pursuits. More soap opera than opera. Then I consciously downsized my lifestyle, which made me happier (Eight years on I no longer wake up in a cold sweat from bad dreams of the NAO. Woot! Yay!). Happier and less stressed but considerably poorer. And I actually went about two years when I barely played any music at all. Except compilations, classical and pop, possibly because they required little thought.
Then one day, I had had a bit of a bad morning at work. nothing major, but I decided I needed "Retail therapy". Only, I took myself off to WH Smith in Victoria Station instead and miserably perused their dismal collection of CDs for sale. Just one leapt off the shelf and demanded I took it home.
And I kept listening to it over and again, and realising how much I loved his voice. And I realised I needed a) digital TV (mainly for Artsworld) and b) a DVD player. I then realised that it's not so difficult to get tickets for Covent Garden (especially after they went online in 2003). And that tickets are not expensive, not if you've got some disposable income
But the only reason I love opera is because I have been consumed by lust for Plácido Domingo for twenty five years. And I discovered that by writing frequently about him on this blog, I get a great many visitors from all over the world who check back regularly, so I feel obliged (a very pleasant obligation) to continue writing about him. And the only reason I went to see him seven times, and assiduously stalked him, was for the blog. Honest.
Q from Zed