Tonight will be an important night, although just how important I don't yet know. It will be important because — for what, by my count, is the 48th time — Cheryl Barker will sing and I'll be there to hear her. It will be important because it's been a year since Cheryl last sang for OA. It will be important because she's making a major role début, and because the role in question is one of the most complex and beautiful heroines in the repertoire. It will be important because she's an important singer singing important repertoire.
But there is more to it for me than all the above. Something which has already made me teary at this, the second paragraph of what I imagine will be quite a long piece of writing. Tonight, for me, two milestones will collide — if milestones can do that — and I don't know just what to expect. Tonight, Cheryl will make her début as the Marschallin. And tonight, after what could be called a lifetime's anticipation, I'll see my first live Rosenkavalier and finally come face to face with a woman I adore: Princess Marie Therese von Werdenberg.
You see, here's the thing. In the four years since I half-stumbled upon her Jenufa, I have seen Cheryl in twelve different roles. A huge variety of repertoire, but all, as it happens, with one thing in common. In one way or another, Cheryl introduced me to all twelve of those women. Desdemona, Arabella, Francesca da Rimini, Donna Agnes, Rusalka, even Cio-Cio San — I discovered them, and their operas, through Cheryl. And yes, this speaks to some extent to my comparative operatic infancy, but it's also been a case of pure exquisite coincidence too. So I've fallen (in varying degrees) for these heroines and they've been synonymous with Cheryl from the outset — and that synonymity is what I've become accustomed to.
But now, tonight, we finally strike an exception. Cheryl will be my first live Marschallin. But as a person, as an idea, as a musical and dramatic entity, I have known — and loved — Marie Therese since before I even knew there was a Cheryl. As a character, she drew me in even while I was still coming to grips with Strauss's music; once I realised that what she was singing was some of the best and most beautiful music in the entire world, I loved her even more dearly. And the point is, I've loved her independently of any one singer — and in fact, independently of opera itself. The Marschallin exists — music, words and actions all incorporated into a tangibly intangible human being — and it's that Marschallin, who would continue to exist even if she were never sung again by anyone, whom I've known since I was very small and loved for as long as I've loved opera.
This is why tonight is more important to me than a usual Cheryl night. Usually it's just Cheryl who makes it important. But this time, so does the role she's singing. My first live Marschallin would be an important occasion no matter who she was; the fact that she's Cheryl multiplies that importance beyond the reach of mere mathematics, and what outcome will be, I just don't know. I do know that the last time I saw Cheryl sing Strauss, I spent the next two days in a haze of beguilement, and that was in an opera I barely knew, as a heroine I'd never given much consideration. I also know that everybody I've spoken to who was at the final dress rehearsal on Wednesday seems to have staggered out of there with only her name on their otherwise speechless lips. I know that Strauss is Strauss and Cheryl is Cheryl, and I know how spectacularly susceptible I am to them both.
And I know that it will be, well, good. At some vaguely objective level it's fair to assume that Cheryl's début as the Marschallin is going to be significant and successful; you don't need to love her like I do to appreciate that. But at a personal level I don't know how good, or what kind of good, or which superlatives will suggest themselves first as replacements for "good", or just what effect all of that goodness will have upon me. I don't know how Cheryl will affect my view of the Marschallin, or, for that matter, how the Marschallin will affect my view of Cheryl. In what state I'll eventually drag myself out of the opera house remains to be seen. Whether I'll make it out alive remains to be seen.
What's certain is that eighteen hours from now we will be twenty minutes into Act I and life will already be different. Cheryl, Marie Therese, Richard, Hugo et moi, all together at last. What comes next, ich weiss gar nicht — but I'm oh so ready to find out.