This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on July 19, 1998.
A fellow baby boomer told me that our generation will be the first to care for our aging parents longer than our parents spent caring for us. It is a frightening thought for most boomers, who are now in middle age. I wonder if we are up to it.
My friend spent several years caring for his father, who suffered from dementia and spent the last several years of his life in a nursing home. His parents divorced when he was young, and his elderly mother lives alone in an apartment near his home. He looks after her.
Responsible parents who bring children into the world expect to care for them for the first eighteen to twenty years. They drive them to lessons, help with homework and provide guidance and love. As each child reaches adolescence, all parties involved begin to accept the idea that the child will soon be an adult and on his way.
These days it is not unusual for a couple to become parents, grandparents and even great grandparents, watching three generations grow up. Advances in medicine keep senior citizens alive for many more years than just a few generations ago.
A child growing up today will be cared for by her parents until she is an adult. After she has raised her own family, she can look forward to taking care of her parents indefinitely. When their responsibilities end, hers begin.
I sat by the bedside of both my parents as they struggled through major surgeries – one for cancer, one for heart trouble. I always thought I would turn and run when my parents got needy. Indeed, three of my four siblings have.
My sister and I are our parents’ caregivers now. Even though we are grateful that our parents have enough money to hire help with medical and custodial care, emotionally the complete role reversal is unsettling and hard to accept.
The people who had all the answers when we were young look to us for answers now. The parents who stood tall when we were children shrink before our eyes. We find them asking for advice, seeking our guidance. We are the ones who consult with doctors about their care.
I hope my fellow boomers will consider the challenge of caring for elderly parents to be an opportunity for growth. After her surgery, my mother was on life support for three agonizing days. During that time I grew in ways I never imagined.
In cardiac intensive care, my mother was on a respirator, with her mouth taped shut. Tubes sprouted from all four of her limbs and a really nasty one went right into her guts. Desperate, I asked her if she’d like me to swear for her. Her lids lifted, our eyes locked, and she nodded, “yes.”
Bent over her bed, I began to swear like a sailor in loud, salty language, under fluorescent light in the tiny hospital room. I voiced her frustration and expressed the indignation she felt but was unable to express.
Five years later my mother is going strong. She tells me often that my swearing pulled her through. I gave vent to my mother’s fear and gave her my confidence and strength, which reinforced her own will to survive.
Parent and child relationships are never easy. For most of history, parents were dominant. After leaving home to start their own families, children often buried their parents before they reached their own middle age. Having parents around for several generations may be a mixed blessing.
Hopefully, parents and children will rise to the occasion and learn to love one another in ways none of us could have imagined mere generation ago. Most of us will someday be that be elderly parent, feeling displaced and in need of love. May we learn as fast the changes demand and provide our parents, late in the day, the patience and love they require.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on August 10, 2009.
My father died peacefully in his sleep at home not quite 10 years ago. Ever since, I tell people how incredible the experience was for my sister, my mother and me.
Dad had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was given four weeks to live without treatment. After three weeks of radiation, his throat was swollen shut and he couldn't eat. His doctor said a stomach tube would enable him to continue radiation treatments. I looked at my father, who was very clearly dying, and knew that further treatment would condemn him to a tortured death in the hospital.
We told the doctor we wanted to take Dad home. Although the physician didn't initiate the discussion about stopping treatment, he was supportive after we made it.
Dad lived for 29 days after we took him home. The swelling in his throat subsided, he was able to eat normally, and my sister and I had time to help him put his financial affairs in order to provide for our mother after he was gone. One of the last times I saw him, I spooned ice cream into his mouth. Our memories of his last days are ones of solace, not regret.
Not only was Dad spared intense suffering, Medicare was spared more expense when we opted for at-home hospice care.
Our family's end-of-life discussion was excruciating. At first, Dad didn't want to admit he was dying because he was fighting the cancer as hard as he could. He had withstood three grueling weeks of radiation so he could get better, but it wasn't working.
Verbalizing it -- acknowledging out loud that he was dying -- was the hardest thing for our family to do. Dad's physician helped us discuss the hospice option with him. The doctor came to Dad's hospital room and told him, man to man, that guys in his condition were considered terminal. The doctor told him in the way Dad liked to get information: straight up, with little show of emotion.
What families don't know is that once this fact is discussed and accepted, everyone can move on. All the pretense of trying to get better is gone. We helped Dad get his earthly affairs in order. Two of my siblings hadn't spoken to Dad for twelve years. When they found out he was in hospice, they came to see him. They wouldn't have been able to do that if he had continued the radiation and died in the hospital.
A study by scientists at the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston found that patients who had an end-of-life conversation had an estimated average of $1,876 in healthcare expenses during their final week of life compared with $2,917 for those who did not. Continuing treatment amounts to a 36% increase in costs. Everyone wants to lower healthcare costs, but not by cutting short a loved one's life, of course. This study also showed that patients typically didn't live longer if they received intensive treatment and that palliative care (providing comfort, not treatment) led to more comfortable deaths.
My father's peaceful death came as a result of his family's commitment to see that he was well cared for at home. The hospice professionals were with us every step of the way and helped us cope. Caring for my father, even with the help of professionals, was the most difficult thing I have ever done. My sister and I devoted ourselves to his care for those twenty-nine days, but neither of us has any regrets. We know we did the right thing.
When I told my father I named my goldfish after the custodian at my elementary school, he laughed. I was surprised by his reaction, because I meant to express my admiration for Mr. Butler by naming my fish after him. My eight-year-old sophistication wasn’t developed enough to understand the nuances of racism.
This was published in the Pasadena Star-News on January 21, 2008.
As I watched my black goldfish swim around in its little bowl I felt proud to have named it after Mr. Butler. I had a vague idea of why my dad found it humorous that I named my black fish after an African American. Growing up in a small town in the Midwest in the 1950’s, I was not exposed to much racial prejudice, mainly because I was not exposed to anyone who wasn’t Caucasian. Everyone I knew was white, Christian, middle-class and had a mom and dad living under the same roof.
Most of us can recite the names of our elementary school teachers long after our childhood is over because their names are buried deep in our memories. I can recall the good teachers and the bad, but it is Mr. Butler, a man I later found out who shouldhave been a teacher, that I remember with fondness and respect.
After I was grown, my mother told me that Mr. Butler had a teaching certificate but in the middle of the 1950’s in a small Ohio town, an African American male would not be hired to teach. When people despair of our culture today and wish to return to the good old days of the 1950’s, they must remember that those old days were not good for everyone, especially qualified African Americans who were denied the opportunity to teach.
All the kids liked Mr. Butler. He was friendly and funny and seemed like a regular person to me. As a very young child I was told that I should not breathe the same air as black people. This was explained to me, along with other tidbits of wisdom -- like holding my breath while driving by a graveyard or I would die. When you are a kid, you take these things as facts. When I was about ten-years-old I got on an elevator with an African American elevator operator. I prepared to hold my breath, as I was advised. Instead, I looked into his eyes and saw a regular person, like Mr. Butler. Figuring I had nothing to dread, I took in a deep breath of air and wondered where my friends and family got such crazy ideas.
Many of us grew up in towns like the one I called home, where racism was part of the fabric of every day life, taken for granted and mostly unchallenged. I grew up and moved away and decided to live in a more diverse community. I watched brave African Americans fight for the right to vote, to live in society without fear and to be hired for jobs for which they are qualified. Dr. Martin Luther King admonished us to judge one another by the content of our character and not the color of our skin. The power of his message transcended the racist messages I had got from people I was supposed to believe and trust as I was growing up.
When I see Barack Obama on TV, I sometimes think about Mr. Butler. I wonder if he is still alive and imagine that he is gratified by the changes he has seen in his lifetime. I wonder if he spent his career as a custodian or if he ever found a place to teach. I have to wonder why he stayed in my little town, with its racism so entrenched and seemingly insurmountable.
As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, we recall his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and the power with which he delivered it. He spoke for all the Mr. Butlers who were judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. When I think back to my childhood I remember the strength of Mr. Butler’s character and hope he found a classroom in which to share it.
My book, Loving Choices, Peaceful Passing: Why My Family Chose Hospice, will be available on Amazon and other online book sellers soon.
There is no guidebook on when, and how, to stop treatment of a terminal illness. Offered here is an intimate account of how the myriad end-of-life decisions affect a family. Bob Vallee had the courage to accept his impending death and lived out his final days at home in his daughter’s care. He passed peacefully, in his sleep, twenty-nine days after entering hospice.
At the heart of this deeply reflective narrative about choices in living and dying, the reader finds a story of acceptance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and finally, awe for the fragility of life.
Peace is a place that lies between what is lost and what still remains. Kathleen Vallee Stein presents a lens-shifting view of role reversal as she takes on more, and sometimes unexpected, responsibility for her parents. Her service to her father was a gift of love and gave him the dignity we all deserve in the last days of our lives. Stein’s attention to detail sensitively recaptures events, without falling prey to nostalgia.
Read this book to consider choices you may make for yourself or the ones you love.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Times on December23, 2000.
My coworkers and I were subjected to a very convoluted office gift exchange for many years. We finally eliminated it after the lone worker who kept it going finally retired. Her concept, which involved giving a gift every day for four days, got very expensive. Her system was laced with guilt and peer pressure and was way out of sync with the spirit of the season.
Late last October we sat together in a staff meeting and lamented the waste of giving one another tiny packages of “joy” that didn’t really elicit said emotion. Most of us wanted to wish our coworkers well by word of mouth, perhaps by a kind deed, but certainly not by material possessions. There seemed to be no way out of this holiday quagmire.
After the organizer’s retirement, we all agreed not to continue with the current system, but stone silence greeted the call for what to do instead. Finally, one soul spoke up.
“We are all blessed,” she declared, “but others are not.” She wanted to “adopt” a a family. We could visit our largess on them, the truly needy, and not on one another.
The rest of the staff members chimed in. Yes, yes, yes. Through the Salvation Army we received the names and ages of the children in our adopted family, along with their wish list. They didn’t ask for much: a coat, shoes, hats, a toy car. We quickly divided up the list and went shopping. We bought what they wanted, and more.
This, we quickly concluded, was fun. When we shopped for useless but cute gifts for our fellow staffers, it was stressful, a chore to complete. When we tried to select just the right gift for a child who needed our help, we reveled in the true spirit of the holiday. The stack of gaily wrapped gifts grew higher and higher each day.
We adopted the entire family and bought gifts for everyone – mom, dad and the four children. Gifts for the dad came as generously as gifts for the three-year-old.
The team spirit that came from our holiday project didn’t come from an outside trainer or hired consultant. It didn’t happen in a classroom or during a retreat but came from the best part of every employee.
Our staff is very diverse in religious backgrounds and faiths but we all caught the spirit of the holiday. It didn’t matter if we celebrated Christmas or not, we all wanted to buy a gift for the family. We all wanted to donate food and other staples to lighten their load and brighten their holiday. We all preferred to reach out to the family rather than purchase a gift that is not needed or appreciated.
My coworkers and I will awaken on Christmas morning, safe and secure in our homes, watching our children or grandchildren’s joy. All of us will pause at some point on that dear morning and imagine the face of a child we will never meet, tearing the wrapping paper off our personally wrapped present that contains her dearest wish.
We didn’t save the world or the city or the community, or even this particular family. We saw a need and filled it; we adopted a family and embraced the season as we saw it. And along the way, we had some fun.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on Dec. 3,1999.
The fish was the ugliest I had ever seen. I actually recoiled as my son proudly pointed him out in the aquarium. He loves fish. Most boys want a dog or a cat. Fish, it seems, capture my son’s imagination.
“Fish,” he told me, “don’t bark or jump on guests.”
“You can’t pet them or teach them tricks,” I replied.
They look at me sometimes, he claimed, and that was enough.
He brought the ugly fish home on a cold, dark December day. Jet-black, just like the winter night, the fish’s eyes were perched on the ends of hideous balls protruding from his unfortunate body. The rest of him looked like a regular black goldfish, but the awful eyes made me cringe. He was quite out of place in the aquarium.
After a few visits to the tank, I began to admire the fish’s moxie. We bonded and I started to call him Bugsy. He glided past the more elegant fish, ones with tiger stripes and brilliant dots of color, with his big baseball eyes held high. He found his way and found his place in the underwater world.
A few days before Hanukkah began, my son came to me, expressing concern for Bugsy. It appeared that the black scales around the horribly shaped eyes were coming off. We looked at Bugsy and felt a terrible sadness. We turned away.
My son felt the fish was looking to him for help. He didn’t know what to do. Although I appreciated his concern, I knew that his beloved pet was a $2 fish and could be easily disposed of. He rejected that idea immediately and said he would call the fish supply store for advice.
He got busy with school and work and didn’t consult the store. When the other fish began to nip at Bugsy, he removed the fish from the tank and put in him in a big jar of water.
Bugsy was on death watch. We could not know for certain if he suffered, but nonetheless, we felt his pain. Darkness descended.
The next day, after his geography final, my son planned to release Bugsy into a fountain in a park to let him die with dignity, but first he promised he would stop at the fish store to see if anything could be done. I said goodbye to Bugsy as my son walked out to his truck, gently cradling the big glass jar in his arms with the fish swimming blissfully in tiny circles.
Less than 30 minutes later, my son returned, holding the big glass jar aloft. Bugsy, it seems, had contracted a virus. All he had to do was put some pills in the fish tank for a period of time and Bugsy would recover quite nicely.
He showed me the pills, eight in all, in a tiny plastic packet. Eight pills, eight days.
Hanukkah! Bugsy was our Hanukkah miracle . . . his recovery lit the night. A tiny fish that could have been tossed out when in distress was given a second
chance by a compassionate young man. Bugsy is holding his own and we are quite optimistic.
We hope he will survive the odds and light our winter nights, as the lamp lit the dark nights of the Jewish people centuries ago.
We light the Hanukkah candles to keep away the winter darkness and find our miracles where we may.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on December 22, 2010.
This is the time of year when we get in touch with people we only get in touch with
once a year. Many people I send cards to are in that category. Still, I want to let them know how I am doing and hope they will also send a card to me. Most of them are people I knew in the past but they still matter today.
One of those people is a co-worker I knew twenty-five years ago. I worked with her at a retirement community in Van Nuys. We were called retirement counselors but we were really rental agents. Betty had been in the business for a few years; I was brand new. She quickly became my teacher and I learned as I watched her gain the confidence of the most skeptical and worried adult child of a frail senior in search of a safe place to live. She would be there the day they moved in and hovered like a mother hen until the tenant was settled.
When we weren’t showing apartments, we worked together in the rental office. After dealing with stressed out families all day we often found humor in the absurdity of life and often laughed so hard we cried. We worked with people who were nearing the end of their lives, living in one room, often ill and alone, having outlived most of their friends and family. We admired them in many ways and treated them with utmost respect and affection, but we needed our downtime too.
Betty had been happily working at a state-of-the art retirement community in Montana but moved back to Los Angeles because her thirty-something daughter, her only child, was ill. Her daughter’s health was precarious and she had to be hospitalized from time to time. I came to understand that Betty’s job was a respite from her difficult home life with her daughter.
Several years earlier, Betty’s husband was tragically killed on the job as steelworker due to negligence on the part of the company. After a protracted lawsuit, Betty received a settlement but she was still alone in the world with her daughter to care for. I admired
her resilience, her constant good humor and positive outlook.
Eventually I moved to another job and Betty followed her heart and moved to Arizona with a man she had become reacquainted with through mutual friends. We talked on the phone occasionally and exchanged Christmas cards.
After a couple of years passed with no phone calls or cards, I called Betty’s daughter a few times but never got a call back. Her number in Arizona was disconnected. I called the corporate headquarters of the retirement community company and spoke to the marketing manager, who knew Betty too. He had lost touch with her as well.
It has been more than a decade since I heard from Betty and I have assumed the worst. I have to conclude that her daughter never let any of her mother’s many friends know what happened to her. I don’t know why her daughter didn’t go through Betty’s address book and call her friends. When someone passes, lots of people who knew them well, even if it was years ago, still care.
In this electronically connected society there is no excuse for not letting people know when a loved one passes. It leaves a gap in the relationship that can never be filled.
When a former neighbor passed, his son stopped by to tell me in person and I was very grateful. I wasn’t family, or even a close friend, but it gave closure. When a loved one passes, it is better to err on the side of giving their friends a call or email. It is best to let people know, especially at this time of year when people stop to think about old friends and miss them still.
This piece was published in the the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on Dec. 24, 2006.
This is the season that we remember people who have taken care of us all year –
people who cut our hair and our grass, pick up our trash and deliver our mail and
newspaper. If your paper appears at the top of the step every morning and not in the
grass next to the sprinkler head, you know that someone who began his workday at
4:00 a.m. is doing his job right.
Two years ago my sister and I gave a Christmas bonus to some very special people
who helped us immeasurably by taking care of our mother as she lived out her last days
in a board-and-care home. I don’t want to minimize the importance of my hairdresser,
gardener or paper carrier, but the people who cared for my mom every day,
twenty-four/seven, were extraordinarily kind and did work that few of us could handle.
As we hired people to care for both our parents in their declining years, we became acquainted with professional caregivers. The ones we met were patient people with a temperament that enabled them to meet the physical and emotional needs of very frail, very old people.
Every time I visited Mom at the board-and-care home, I came away with a renewed
appreciation for the people who sat in the living room of the large house with the residents, watching g-rated movies with them, cooking their meals and making sure they took their pills on time. The caregiving profession is largely unregulated and offers low pay and few benefits.
The facility my mom was at was owned by a very compassionate woman who provided as best she could for her staff as well as the residents. She struggled to provide insurance and other benefits to the staff and still make a living.
My sister and I took this into consideration when we sat down together to decide what to give the caregivers, with Mom’s blessing, as a Christmas bonus. Mom had been in the board-and-care for a full year and most of the staff had taken care of her on a daily basis. She could do almost nothing for herself and was incontinent.
The staff delivered her meals to her room, bathed and changed her and kept her spirits up. Mom was mentally sharp and often discussed politics, books and the weather with
her caregivers. She kept chocolates on her bedside tray and would teasingly accuse her favorite caregiver, Tony, of sneaking a few when she wasn’t looking. Tony always denied it in mock horror and called her “Trouble” with a large and gentle smile.
We decided to give each of the staff $100. I put fresh, crisp one hundred dollar bills in each of greeting cards that we gave to the staff. Tony told me that the bonus enabled him to buy gifts for his family. He had only enough money to go home for Christmas. Now he could buy gifts for his nieces, nephews and his parents. He told me this through grateful tears.
Mom died three months later. Tony attended the service and he had tears again, as did we all. He told me he thought of my mother as a friend. Then he said he wanted to get out of the caregiving business because it was too hard. I told him he was exactly the type of person who should be a caregiver, as difficult as it was at times.
Few people in the personal care business are paid as little as care givers of the elderly. I was grateful that my mother had the financial means to give Christmas bonuses to the people who cared for her. It was a small gift in return for their daily gifts of kindness, care and companionship.
As we think of those who we notice only when they don’t do their job, it is a perfect time to stop and think what their efforts really mean to us, how best we can show our appreciation and what it may mean to them.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on December 6, 2000.
Memories of parents can haunt us at holiday time. As I watch the lights go up and prepare my own holiday, I recall memories that will remain in my heart. I remember the time my dad brushed my hair when I was six years old. I remember the look on his face when I climbed so eagerly out of the car as I departed for college.
I’ll always remember the cold green walls and the tiny stool I sat on as my dad and I waited in pre-op for the surgeon to remove his colon cancer. The plastic shower cap rested atop his high forehead, the one I inherited.
The cancer was successfully removed, but my dad was never the same. Two short years later he was dying. It was a new cancer that grew in his cervical spine. Given one month to live, without treatment, he opted for radiation.
After three weeks of that torture, pneumonia set in. He couldn’t swallow. He was weak and had to go to the oncology clinic in a wheelchair. The clinician who was to administer his radiation treatment instead sent him to the hospital.
Caring for a dying parent requires the ability to assimilate complex medical information that has, as its bottom line, the ultimate question: What is best for this man who helped give birth to me, raised me and made a lot of mistakes while he did his best.
I had no better compass to avoid mistakes than Dad did when he had my tiny life in his hands. In the beginning, and at the end, we all do the best we can.
During his last two years, Dad, a very proud and private man, suffered from impaired vision, a bad pain in his shoulder, itchy feet, weak legs and lot of other ailments that left him exhausted and frustrated. His outrage was understandable, but his acceptance of loss and adaptation to “assisted living” was admirable.
When the radiation people turned my dad over to the hospital people, we knew it was the end. My mother, sister and I were ready to suggest Dad enroll in the Medicare Hospice program. I stood at the end of his hospital bed with my mother on one side and his physician on the other. The doctor told him my father that he was terminally ill and it was time for hospice. Dad agreed and we all cried together, but inside.
My sister and I clocked countless hours on the road, driving to the little mountain town in Arizona to which our folks had retired twelve years earlier, when they were healthy. Our biggest concern then was if they remembered to turn on the burglar alarm before they left on a trip.
Now we were spending our days trying to raise Dad up high enough in his hospital bed so he could spit-up in a basin. Pneumonia isn’t pretty. Add a throat swollen from radiation treatments and you have one miserable human being, relying solely on the people he had always cared for, to care for him. Now it was our turn to care for him, in spite of our astonishment, in spite of our pain.
We filled prescriptions, emptied the suction machine and the throw-up basin, monitored the oxygen level, and made sure disposable gloves were on hand for toileting. We used a maneuver called the “bear hug” to lift him out of his wheelchair, we balanced him on his walker, fed him ice cream whenever he wanted it and poured a dry martini whenever he wanted it.
We stood on the cusp of a new millennium with a guy who was born in 1920 and had prepared to die at the dawn of a new century. So many of his fellows will follow. I hope they will have the courage to enter hospice when it is clear that the cure-at-all-cost modern medicine is no longer necessary. Dad had the courage to accept that his days were numbered. We took him home to die in peace.
Hospice care helps everyone through the process of dying. The knot it leaves in the throat is soon replaced with heaviness of heart. Ultimately, it leaves peace for those who remain behind and a safe way home for those who go before.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on January 29, 2008.
The closest I came to being an opera fan was the 15 years I spent as a regular
viewer of As the World Turns, a so-called “soap opera.” The daily daytime dramas are
called soap operas, or “soaps” for short, because they are often sponsored by laundry
detergent or other household cleansers. The “opera” part comes from the interpersonal
storylines, romantic liaisons and breakups, clear cut villains, brave heroes and fair
New York’s Metropolitan Opera started broadcasting real operas in movie theaters
throughout the United States starting in their 2006/2007 season. I attended “I Puritani,”
one of the first productions, last January in Alhambra and was shocked to see the line to
enter the theater stretching around the block – at 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
Who were these people? It turns out they were just like me, curious to see an opera in a
movie theater, broadcast live from New York.
When my husband and I entered the theater, we heard the orchestra tuning, 3000 miles
away in the pit of the Met. We had to scramble to find a good seat because the opera
buffs had come early. After we got settled we watched the people in the audience at the
theater taking their seats on the screen. Listening to the tuning orchestra and watching
the audience members taking their seats made us feel as if we were at a live
performance. The conductor came out and the camera followed him to the pit where he
lifted his baton and the opera began.
The cameras moved around the stage and gave the theater audience a view of the
opera that those at the Met could not see. The subtitles provided the English translation
so I could follow the story, but opera dialogue moves very slowly because
everything is sung, so it forces the viewer to slow down. At first I was annoyed and
wanted the story to move faster because I am used to quickly changing scenes and
dialogue on TV and the movies. In opera, you have to stop, look and listen -- to the
singing, the scenery and the singers in their costumes. It takes a while to slow the pace,
but once you get there, it is relaxing.
At intermission the camera went backstage to the radio booth where Beverly Sills, a
former opera star, gave a backstage tour. Sills made opera accessible, like Leonard
Bernstein did for classical music. She was very funny when she described the “mad
scene” when the female lover thinks she has been deserted by the man she loves and
goes nuts. Sills recalled the mad scenes she played during her long career and gave
an inside-look-at-baseball for the movie theater audience.
Operas are long and they often have two intermissions. That is another part of
adjusting to opera that is worth the effort. There are few things we sit still for these days.
Staying put for the opera gives you a chance to be transported to another world where
emotions are strong and storylines are spare but the singing is glorious and at some
point you dissolve into it. But it takes time and patience.
Since my first experience, I have returned to the theater in Alhambra and am now
savoring my newly acquired taste in opera. We went to see “Hansel and Gretel” on New
Year’s Day. It was a very dark rendering of the Grimm fairy tale and the two singers,
Alice Coote and Christine Schafer, had me convinced they were two little kids. In this
opera there were much more elaborate costumes and sets, and the dream sequence
in the forest was magical.
Hansel and Gretel slept at the front of the stage while at least a dozen characters
walked in, with giant heads, like the bubble heads of sports figures. A table rolled in and
the characters brought in cakes, pastries and other confections – some were real and
some were props, as we found out during intermission from the Stage Manager when
we were taken back stage by Renee Fleming. The music played in the background and
we had a visual feast as the stage was transported into an elegant dining room.
Opera in movie theaters provides an opportunity for people who want to check out
opera to see and hear the best the art form has to offer. The Met is going to present its
high-definition simulcasts on 300 – 400 movie screens this season, a nearly three-fold
increase from last season. An art form that originated in 1597 has relevance today and
can be seen by anyone who buys a ticket. For more information go
to www.metropera.org/hdive or call 1-800-Met-Opera.
Kathleen Vallee Stein