My love for the music of Puccini began in the summer of 1953 when the University of Iowa’s Department of Music sent out word that they were looking for children who could carry a tune to fill the roles of street urchins in the summer session presentation of La Bohème. Of course, the three older Perrets, the Ringo girls, the Pendletons, the Burians and several more were recruited – and we fast became hooked by the camaraderie of “back-stage,” united by the fear of Harald Stark, the head of the voice department and maestro of the production.
The next contact was ten years later when I became the permanent substitute first oboe at the Théâtre Royal de Charleroi, in a coal-mining city of a million inhabitants in the south of Belgium, where I quickly discovered there were other operas by Puccini and even other opera composers than Puccini.
Summer studies at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy in the mid-1960s made a Verdi-lover of me, especially with Gino Bechi as the vocal coach.
Fast forward to the 1980s, when the oboe teacher of the North Carolina School of the Arts resigned in the spring of 1983. The Winston-Salem Symphony provided the orchestra for the Piedmont Opera (Theater, at that time), and Norman Johnson, Conductor of the Piedmont Opera, accepted me as first oboe. It was a daunting task trying to play La Bohème at the level of the other faculty members, all members of the prestigious Clarion Woodwind Quintet.
On Friday March 13th, 2020, the first on-stage run-through of Suor Angelica for UNCG’s spring opera season took place, a mile-marker leading to four April performances of Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica – but at the end of the rehearsal came the fateful words: “Further rehearsals are cancelled. Go home tonight and don’t return until we call you.” COVID-19 had struck!
So it was with great relief and deepest affection that I attended the season opener of Puccini at the Piedmont Opera! And what performances! Bravo, Piedmont Opera and James Allbritten!
– Peter Perret; October 17, 2021