In ancient Greece, the Athenians spent part of their day at the gymnasium and part of their day at an outdoor amphitheater, where they watched the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
On a recent Saturday morning, I appeared at a gymnasium. I came to play basketball, something no Athenian ever did. The game was not invented until 1891, when James Naismith hung two half-bushel peach baskets 10 feet high in a gym at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Mass.
As noon approached, I announced my departure.
"How come?" my teammates asked, since I am usually the last to leave.
"Die Walküre," I responded, and departed without further explanation.
For the next five hours, I sat by the radio at home listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Wagner's magnificent opera.
Basketball and opera have this in common: Both are physically demanding. Basketball involves running, shooting, and rebounding. For members of the audience, Wagner makes demands on another part of the anatomy: Sitzfleisch, to use the German word.
With the exception of "Die Meistersinger," which is very much down to earth, Wagner's music and texts have, for me, an extraterrestrial quality. I love Wagner's music, but not to the exclusion of favorite Italian, Russian, French, Czech, English, and American operas. In truth, I rarely encounter an opera I don't like. The combination of music and drama is irresistible.
As with the Athenians, I strive for diversity in my life. Each day, in addition to meeting the demands of work, I try to find time to read, write, exercise, listen to music, or view art.
Sometimes I combine two of these activities. As I listen to "Die Walküre," I write this piece. Or I watch basketball on television, with the sound off, while listening to an opera.
This makes for interesting comparisons: Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs leaping for a rebound; Tosca leaping from the ramparts of the Castel Sant'Angelo.
I have played basketball and attended operas for decades. I marvel at the talents and energy of players and singers. I know the rosters of both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Knicks. Indeed, it would be wonderful to have the Valkyries on my basketball team. We would never lose!