The Psychology of Opera

I grew up in a family where music and records were a big part of our quality time together.  The promise of a trip to Sam Goody’s Record Store in Manhattan would inspire my brothers and me to complete our chores quickly and ask if there was anything else we could do for our parents in an effort to earn more brownie points that might translate into more spending money at Sam Goody’s.

It should be no surprise that when I was in college, I sought part-time jobs in record stores so that I could continue to build my collection of albums with the help of a store discount.  The money I made provided me with the cash needed to purchase the albums that were vital to my collection, and also to help with the various trivialities of my life; like eating. 

Boston’s Boylston Street in the 1970s seemed to revolve around Ken’s of Copley.  A two-story, noisy, brightly lit Jewish Deli that stayed open till the wee hours, providing delicious, embarrassingly large sandwiches delivered by short-tempered, gum-smacking waitresses with broad Boston accents.  A few doors down from Ken’s, was a cavernously large record and stereo shop called Soundscope.

The store was loud.  There was always a record on the turntable in the popular music section at the front.  The back of the store, and through glass doors, was the stereo department that was always filled with hairy young men discussing woofers and tweeters.  Although shag carpet was laid on the floors AND the walls, the constant thumping of a bass line could be heard and felt.  Emanating from the classical department, frequently, were stunning examples of the human voice.

In my entire life, I have never met anyone who loves opera more than Howard Hart.

Howard was the manager and buyer for Soundscope’s classical department.  Howard hired me for my first record store job (and my second and third.)  He is not a singer, but knows more about the singing voice than any civilian I know.  He is encyclopedic in his knowledge of dates and times of not just singers and their performances, but also composers and conductors, opera houses, debuts, failures, triumphs, arguments, and all-out-wars.  Unlike many opera fans, he is not ugly with his critiques. He is generous and unreserved with his praise, and ALWAYS sides with the singer and gives them the benefit of the doubt.  He will cry openly when he is moved, and I am moved by his openness. 

Howard left the retail record business in the late seventies, and began working in a more executive capacity which allowed him to establish relationships with many of the singers whose records we sold.  This gave Howard (and some of his lucky friends who were happy to tag along) backstage passes to the Met, invitations to post recital receptions, and an inside track of the goings on at opera houses all over the world.  He has maintained a long friendship with one of my favorite sopranos, Renata Scotto, and many other international opera stars have continued to stay in touch with Howard over the years.    

Recently, Howard and I found each other again after years of searching for each other. He is still the passionate, optimistic, grateful person who was my boss and my friend. Ever the one to give, he is spending his time encouraging people to enjoy opera, and is sharing his knowledge with the people in his community in his hometown of Wakefield, Massachusetts. He recently sat down for a TV interview regarding his opera group at the Wakefield Library.  

Here is the interview. 

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