- First Concert
– Philadelphia 1998
On Tuesday, July 21, 1998, I arrived home from work in plenty of
time to feed the neighbor’s cat and to shower and dress in my blue
linen jacket and silk skirt. Fortunately, as events developed, I
decided to wear pumps with thick heels. The night before, I’d
packed my purse with the tickets, which I’d checked countless
times in the weeks since they’d arrived, and two pairs of opera
I sat down at the piano to pass the time and channel my stress. I
played and played, and my “Maple Leaf Rag” got faster and louder
each time through. About three-quarters of an hour after I’d
expected him, Martin—the young friend who’d accepted my concert
invitation—called to say he’d been delayed at his doctor’s
appointment. When he finally arrived—looking handsome in his dark
suit and driving a fancy little black Mercedes I’d never seen
before—I wanted to go right to the arena in South Philadelphia, or
at least to the immediate vicinity, but I didn’t make my case
forcefully enough. Martin was sure we had time for a quick bite
We got off I-95 at Broad Street because traffic appeared to be
stopped just ahead, a portent of trouble to come. We drove up Broad
to South Street, down South—the heavy traffic inflaming my tension—and
then to a lot near a small Italian restaurant. I ordered a salad and
tea but spent the time flipping the onions over and back. I was wild
with anticipation and worry over the time. Hoping no doubt to calm
me down, Martin suggested a drink I should try, but I declined.
He then made a point of telling me he would be the voice of calm and
reason (in the face of my state of near levitation), so I forced
myself to wait for him to say when it was time to go. A few more
moments of agony passed while he visited the men’s room. Outside
we felt a few drops of rain in the still-sunny and humid early
evening—rainbow weather, but with no rainbow in sight.
Broad Street went from bad—roadwork—to total gridlock. A truck
had jackknifed on I-95, and all interstate traffic was being routed
off farther down Broad. I just barely kept from crying or yelling.
Instead, I compulsively opened and closed my map, trying to see how
many blocks were left. At one point I did holler at Martin to change
lanes because the other lane seemed to hold slightly more promise.
He said mildly, “Do you mean you want me to be over there?” and
made the adjustment, which didn’t help.
At 7:45, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I gave Martin his ticket
and jumped out of the car. He told me later that a man in an
adjacent car had glared at him, evidently thinking that Martin must
have done something terrible to cause me to jump out and start
I ran all the way, except for slipping in a couple short periods of
fast walking to regain some control of my breathing. Praying to
arrive on time, I thought, “If I’m going to collapse, just let
it be after the concert.” I couldn’t believe what was happening,
that I had a real chance of being late and missing my hero’s
The run started at Oregon Avenue. I didn’t know how many blocks I
had to cover, but the stadiums weren’t in sight when I began. I
ran by neat row houses and small, well-kept lawns. People out in
their yards after supper for a little puttering didn’t look up.
First Veteran Stadium and then the Spectrum loomed beside me before
I began to close in on the entrance to my goal, the huge CoreStates
Center, as it was known at that time. I passed other people walking
fast but didn’t see anyone else running.
When I arrived just at eight, a ticket taker told me to take a deep
breath. My face and neck were wet from sweat, and my skirt and
jacket limp and crumpled. There was a blister on my toe. But I’d
made it. I was there—though not quite in the style for which I had
Hurrying down the steep steps inside the arena, I was still
impatient. The people in front of me moved too slowly. Yet once I
found my seat on the floor—about 30 rows back, but directly in
line with where Andrea would stand—I relaxed and let the evening
carry me away. Concert attendees who had been caught in the traffic
jam continued to stream down the arena stairs long after the concert
The Pittsburgh Symphony musicians, dressed in summer whites, took
their places, and Steven Mercurio launched them into the overture to
La forza del destino. I had no idea where Martin was, but I
The cheering for Andrea began before I could see him, and then there
he was, smiling his shy smile as he walked to his place with the
sprightly conductor. The 16,000-member audience stood, ecstatic.
Our tenor nervously wiped his hands down the front of his tuxedo
jacket and was ready. After “La donna è mobile,” he sang the
melancholy aria “Il lamento di Federico,” which will forever
carry me to a perfect warm summer night. Although we were inside an
arena, I felt I was hearing these sounds, which outshine all others
for me, out under the stars.
He was singing his third aria by the time Martin entered the arena.
Soprano Ana María Martínez had come on stage and was into “Un
bel dÌ,” her second piece, by the time he made it to his seat
next to me. Many times in the weeks before the concert, I’d called
up an image of Martin and me sitting in the audience listening to
Andrea up on the stage. In the middle of the concert, I giggled,
realizing we were finally all in our places.
Now when I open my souvenir program, the faint odor of the ink still
carries with it the perfection of the evening, the humid night, and
Martin’s bass voice humming the "Merry Widow Waltz”—the
last encore—all the way home.
- by Winifred