In Honor of World Opera Day, My Top Opera Moments

Franci Neely
4 min readSep 28, 2023
Opera house

Opera is pure magic. When the curtains open, it’s a portal to a sacred place. I can remember the very first time I experienced opera in my 30s, and it’s something that has stuck with me. It ignited in me a deep appreciation for the ancient Italian art. The passionate music and the drama immediately draw you in. Once those first notes hit, it engulfs you and you are swept away in a poetic symphony for the senses.

World Opera Day is Oct. 25. This is a unique celebration that people all over the world embrace. To commemorate this special occasion, see an opera or go online and stream one. I always look back on some of the wonderful operas I’ve seen over the years, and so many memorable moments come to mind.

I’m a fan of classical operas such as Bizet’s Carmen and Verdi’s La Traviata. But there are also contemporary composers who are doing incredible things in the opera world, such as my friend Jake Heggie. Jake is beyond talented, and many of his works are built around true stories. His work is authentic and inspiring. I have had the distinct honor of watching him make music while he and his husband were staying at my home during a summer vacation. Jake’s Dead Man Walking opened the season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on Sept. 26. This brilliant opera initially premiered in 2000 and has now reached the Met. The opera is based on Sister Helen Prejean’s memoir about spiritually advising a convicted killer.

It’s a must-see, along with Jake’s latest release, Intelligence. I predict that this work is going to be a sensational hit with audiences. Another true tale in Jake’s catalog of uplifting stories, Intelligence is about two women who become unlikely allies after an enslaved woman, Mary Jane Bowser, is born into the home of Elizabeth Van Lew, a key figure in a prominent Confederate family. The pair work together to spy for Union commanders during the Civil War.

Intelligence is debuting at Houston Grand Opera on Oct. 20 and will run through Nov. 3. It’s all part of Houston Grand Opera’s fantastic push to not only make opera more inclusive but to demonstrate how an ancient art form can still portray topics and themes that transmit essential messages that still resonate today. I’m honored to have played a small part in underwriting this incredible show, and I encourage everyone to see it.

I think opera and all it has to offer is something that can enrich audiences of all ages. It always surprises me to discover how many people have still not experienced this glorious performance art form. Fusing dramatic acting with the finest singing and musicianship is truly a gift. Opera is something that must be passed down to future generations, and the way we do that is by sharing the power of opera on special days like World Opera Day. I believe that people will always be hungry for thought-provoking stories.

Other operas I have admired over the years include Billy Budd and Peter Grimes, both by British composer Benjamin Britten. These shows have deep themes and curiosity-sparking content. For those who are new to opera, I recommend starting with something breezy by Giuseppe Verdi. I’ve seen The Magic Flute many times and it’s always delightful. This Mozart masterpiece debuted in 1791 and is still going strong. I have the utmost respect for something created that long ago that still evokes the same intense emotion centuries later. That is the power of opera.

This World Opera Day, I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and see an opera — and take a friend. I can’t think of anything more meaningful than sharing the gift of music with someone special to you. As the holidays are approaching, consider gifting opera tickets this year. It would be a unique present that won’t get duplicated or returned. I believe opera is something that everyone can benefit from. It’s over-the-top dramatic, and the stories being told are, in many ways, timeless. Hundreds of hours go into each production, and the time and dedication it takes to put these performances together is apparent when you walk away floating on air, your spirit elevated. There’s mystique, there’s intrigue, and in every opera, there are always surprises. I encourage you to make an opera your next date-night idea or an evening out with a best friend. If you have no one to accompany you, treat yourself. You won’t regret spending time immersed in the highest quality music and storytelling. Leave your worries behind and see why opera has stood the test of time.

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