The Power of Opera

By Joan Eidman

I received the following thoughts from HGO’s harpist Joan Eidman, and immediately invited her to post them on this blog:

I believe in the power of art to transform lives. It has certainly transformed mine.

When asked why I chose to play the harp, I often reply “Because my mother played the harp, and when I was little I would go to sleep at night listening to that beautiful sound and pretend I was a princess in a fairy tale palace in a foreign land.”

The deeper answer is that I did not choose it, but like all artists, it chose me. It grabbed me by the jugular and has always been as important to me as breathing.

Performing opera is an emotional roller coaster. The beauty of a moment such as accompanying Floria Tosca in “Vissi d’arte” is indescribable. Here is a woman facing a terrible predicament. The love of her life is being tortured by a cruel brute of a man who gives her no alternative—her lover’s freedom for her body. In the final moment, does she rant and rave? Does she throw things across the room? No. Everything stops.

In a moment of absolute stillness she goes to a very quiet place and bares her soul, telling how she has lived for art and for love. Although I cannot see the stage, I imagine her kneeling in supplication and prayer. The harp part is astonishingly beautiful. Puccini writes harp parts like no other. The descending notes are perfect pearls of sound. What a thrill it is to hear each artist sing her rendition. To listen acutely to every phrase and every word and every breath as they express Tosca’s soul. Whenever I accompany Tosca, or Mimi in La Boheme, or Cio-Cio San in Madame Butterfly, I feel that I have lived fully.

Now The Little Prince has returned. I remember well the premiere in 2003. The small orchestra features a prominent harp part, and I enjoyed working with the composer Rachel Portman when she came for rehearsals. The opera is a fantastic visual experience that brings the beloved story to life. Everyone I know who came to see it loved it. For one friend, Stephen, it was more than just an evening’s entertainment.

Stephen comes from a long line of educators, and although in 2003 he was working in the corporate world, he was always thinking about becoming a teacher. He had been involved in Junior Achievement and was always finding ways to help others.

When he attended a performance of The Little Prince, the message of the story hit home—that what is important is invisible to the eye, that you must follow your dream. Stephen was transformed during that performance—he left the theater with the decision to become a teacher. He has followed that path ever since, and has been a successful first and second grade teacher for many years.

Who knows what event will alter the path of our lives? It is wondrous to think that opera has that power.