A local chamber music concert included both old and new music. The last piece on the program was called “Pieta” and was introduced as a new piece. The program listed the performers as a mezzo-soprano and pianist. A man and a woman entered the room and the woman gave us the background for this premier performance.
She told us that her son had been a musician—like his mother and grandmother. He had studied music at a university in Chicago, and she was clearly proud of his accomplishment. Not long after graduation, though, he came down with mononucleosis, and then a complication caused his sudden and unexpected death on a winter day almost three years ago. She had been devastated.
She told us she did not remember writing the words we were about to hear, but her friend (the pianist) had set them to music, the piece we were about to hear.
And then he began to play the piano and she began to sing.
She sang of her love for her son and his delightful personality; he was the light in her life. She sang of her sorrow, and she promised that she would never forget him. She sang the love letter she had written to him.
I was mesmerized by her singing, her story and her passion. It was operatic in that sense of being an event that could happen to anyone and yet was bigger than all of us. The depth of her sorrow and grief poured out through her singing.
Every parent who has experienced the death of a child needs to hear this, I thought. Her sorrow is their sorrow.
The title was not lost on me either, and I recalled standing before the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome—a grieving mother holding her dead child, Mary and Jesus. This performance brought that statue to life.
How brave this woman was to sing of her deep sadness, to give voice to the sorrow that comes from the loss of a child. She held nothing back.
I love opera—the music and singing, costumes and sets. Opera presents ordinary events with all the underlying feelings and emotions. It invites us to experience hope, joy and sorrow.
As I listened to this mezzo-soprano, I imagined the story line of an opera—the young man, growing up in a house where music was valued, going off to college with all his hopes for a bright future as a musician. I could see the ordinariness of his college days and then his becoming ill with something common to college students. Then the unexpected, dramatic death, and its aftermath—confusion, anxiety, sorrow, grief.
All that promise gone. All that potential vanished.
What remains is the pouring out of a mother’s feelings of love and loss in this beautiful song.
My heart was touched by this performance and opened by the emotions shared by this grief-stricken mother. I was deeply grateful that she shared so honestly. What a gift.