Artistic talent and music appreciation runs in Christine Chase Sacchi’s family, but opera unexpectedly captured her heart a few years ago.
In 2009, when Sacchi’s daughter traveled to Italy as part of her art education, Sacchi, a homeschooling mother of seven, wanted to hear music that evoked the experience of being in Italy. She found Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, an Italian bass-baritone opera singer, on Youtube, and got hooked. “I looked up everything I could on Youtube and starting buying CDs,” Sacchi said. “He sings a lot in Europe and not as much here.”
She started to watch for a chance to hear him on stage, and was eventually able to see D’Arcangelo on the stage in Los Angeles, and continued to pursue her appreciation of opera in other ways. “I started being more interested in opera in general through being his fan,” Sacchi shared. “I would get so full of words every time I would go to something. I would write and put it on Facebook. My girlfriends who were opera fans that I met through Facebook groups had an endless appetite for everything I wrote. They said, ‘You gotta write a blog.’ A girlfriend from Russia said, ‘I read all the opera blogs, and I like yours better than theirs.’ After a year, I got around to it.”
Sacchi launched her blog on January 1, 2014, and now, over three years later, has hundreds of daily visitors reading her posts. “I’m having so much fun with it,” Sacchi said. “I’m having people tell me on Facebook that they saw me at the opera.”
Sacchi started adding interviews to her blog, in addition to her reviews. She interviewed two composers, Robert W. Butts and Marco Frisina, as well as bass baritone Mark S. Doss. Doss sings in twelve different languages, and flies around the world singing in many prominent opera houses. When Sacchi first reached out to Doss, he was singing in Italy. Doss is tall and strikingly handsome, and Sacchi was a bit nervous at first. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m kind of afraid, but my readers just love interviews,’ said Sacchi, who was able to complete the interview in writing and eventually met Doss in New York. “This interview was perfect for my readers, since my blog is focused on basses and baritones.”
While the opera blogosphere is full of good writing, Sacchi wants her niche to be writing for those who may not be musical experts or even opera fans. She wants to discuss things in a way that’s interesting to the aficionado while accessible to the curious. “I’d like to be a bridge between normal people and the world of opera,” Sacchi shared. “I want to appeal to the avid fan as well as the first time opera goer.”
As she’s attended more performances, Sacchi has been able to verbalize what she finds particularly appealing about opera. “I have distilled for myself why the art form is very special to me and why I’d like to see it perpetuate instead of dying out,” shared Sacchi. “The human voice without amplification is a very beautiful instrument. The experience of it hitting not just your eardrums but your body can’t be reproduced outside a live performance. To be in the room with the music is an experience of the whole body, mind, and soul.”
Of course there’s a place for microphones and recordings, Sacchi agrees. But hopefully through writing about opera she can reach people with the idea that live singing is a tradition well worth preserving in an electronic age.
In her quest to introduce more newcomers to opera, Sacchi admits encountering some familiar preconceived expectations. She responded, “Some people literally expect to see a large lady in Viking garb, horned helmet and all.”
This raises the question of body image and the pressure on singers today to not only sound great but conform to standards of beauty driven by film and television. As to whether a large frame is necessary to sing well–it’s not. “I’ve seen a lady five feet tall and slender fill an opera house with her voice,” said Sacchi. “It’s pretty amazing what they can do with professional training. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with size at all. In the meantime, they’re now dealing with being judged on how well they look, as well as how they sing. This modern standard of physical beauty is putting a lot of pressure on the opera world. The singers think, ‘If I’m overweight, I won’t get the role. And if I get the role, but I’m not someone’s idea of slim enough, what will the critics say?’ The critics can be vicious. Fans like me get nervous because I don’t want people to get hired just because they’re thin. I want them to be good singers. If the balance tips too far toward movie star looks, we could end up hearing lesser voices.”
In addition to old stereotypes, technology has influenced how a potential audience views opera. “We can all hear the world’s best at the touch of a button,” Sacchi said. “What does this mean for audiences attending local shows? Will we become unrealistically demanding?”
When considering new material for her website, Sacchi looks for performances that revolve around a featured singer, a new opera, or a particular composer, especially if she’s featured a certain person on her blog. “Because I’m interested in new music in helping opera not die out,” explained Sacchi. “We need new opera. The old opera is very beautiful but I don’t think we were meant to watch the same shows over and over. There’s something stale there. Culture needs something of our own time.”
She is also aware of how music continues to evolve. “In the 20th century, some modern music got very hard to understand, very intellectual and technical,” Sacchi said. “Audiences became wary of new compositions. I think we’re finding our way forward now to music that’s very beautiful and relevant. Opera is just drama and music put together–people singing about their feelings and about life.”
Sacchi writes in other forms as well and is working on her first novel, a murder mystery that revolves around a real-life church homicide. Catch the latest in her adventures on her blog.