‘Porgy’ star: Opera is fini if fat lady keeps singing

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The good news is: advertising works. Ever since the newspaper started running an ad (Page 27 today) promoting our Sun-Times Goes to the Lyric contest, people who never brought up the subject before are asking me about opera.

“How do I get those tickets?” asked the Thomas-the-Tank-Engine Metra conductor.  

“You’ve got to enter the contest!” I breezily replied to him and to the security guard who asked the same question, and to the other random folk who brought it up.

Another surprisingly common reader reaction is succinctly stated by Bill Anders:

“I think it is wrong not to give some attribution in the ad to the lovely woman you stand next to. She is not identified.”

“I’m sure it’s unintentional,” adds Sharon McGowan, “but it feels disrespectful to me.”

Can’t have that. The purpose of journalism is to clarify mysteries, not create them. 

The woman to my left in the orange dress is Adina Aaron, American soprano, singing Bess at the Lyric’s production of “Porgy and Bess.” I sat down with her last week for a surprisingly candid conversation about the future of opera — so candid that I almost blurted out, “You know this is going into the newspaper, right?” But, I figured, opera has no purpose if not to excite the passions.

I began by asking Aaron, who grew up in Florida and has starred internationally from Finland to Tel Aviv, how people react when they find out she’s an opera singer.

“They’re a bit in awe because they don’t know much about it,” she said. “I know, the first thing is, they don’t expect an opera singer to look the way I look, of course.”

“You mean,” I said, groping for the proper word, “tall?”

“Just not obese,” replied Aaron. “Unfortunately, you see commercials with the big horns and Wagnerian look. They still have that perception. So they look at me like, ‘Really?’ ” 

Aaron was always athletic and had no interest in opera growing up. Instead she played piano, and was “heavy into sports: basketball, tennis, karate, you name it.” 

She got a basketball scholarship to one college and a music scholarship at another.

“I had to sit down and decide,” she said. “I loved both, but at that time there was no future in basketball. No WNBA. You had to go to Europe. I said, ‘You know, I don’t really want to go to Europe.’ ” Which is ironic. 

Only in college did she discover opera. 

“A teacher said ‘go to the library, go look at these opera videos,’ ” she said. “I saw ‘Traviata’ by Verdi. That was the beginning.”

But she keeps an athlete’s discipline — she rode her bike to our interview. 

“It’s so important to stay healthy,” she said. “To me, health and singing are one and the same. I never imagine giving up one for another. I don’t know how singers do it who don’t exercise, if you gain too much weight and you’re too out of shape.”


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