Study Leader Fred Plotkin is an expert on music, food, and wine, and everything related to Italy. Opera is his great love—he has worked for Milan’s La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera—and he’s passionate about sharing opera with others. Fred is the author of Opera 101, Classical Music 101, as well as six books on Italy, and can be heard regularly on NPR. Here, he sits down with us to talk about his first love. Click here for more information on Fred and traveling with him.
Smithsonian Journeys: What is it that continues to captivate you about opera?
Fred Plotkin: Opera is the greatest of all art forms in that it encompasses so many others: vocal and orchestral music, drama, dance, visual arts, lighting, costume design and even, on occasion, film. It is the way that these elements combine that make each opera—and each new production of that opera—unique. An opera lover always has something exciting to look forward to. The ability to sit for three hours and be bathed in gorgeous music that helps us examine what it means to be human is an incomparable gift.
SJ: How did your passion for Italy develop?
FP: Very early on I was captivated by the idea of the Renaissance man and all that entails. While most people I knew sought narrow specializations, I came to cherish the interconnectivity of different arts and sciences and the way politics, religion, and philosophy had impact on them. Opera, which was born in the late Renaissance, was an effort to bring all of these elements together in one art form. We see the Italian ideal carried everywhere in the world: rational architecture, humanism, respect for nature’s gifts, and a keen desire to understand the mysteries of the world and the soul.
SJ: What do you enjoy most about traveling with Smithsonian?
FP: I love the sense of enthusiasm and informal discussions prompted by the operas and my lectures. Also, the opportunity to meet some of the key individuals involved in the presentation of the operas gives a broader sense of what goes on to make every production a success.
SJ: You are also known for your love of food and wine. How will Smithsonian Journeys travelers also benefit from this expertise?
FP: When I am not doing opera work, I write about food and wine. For a past Smithsonian journey to the Met, I took part in the selection of the restaurants, menus, and wines we enjoyed at the opening and closing meals of our stay. I work with Journeys to create an itinerary organized to give you time to rest and reflect while you are immersed in the opera, and also affords you the chance to sample many of the rich cultural treasures and restaurants in your leisure time.