The news stung. An old friend had died, and I never said goodbye. I assumed she'd always be there for me. But the Baltimore Opera is gone - yet another casualty of the economic morass.
I can wag a finger at corporate sponsors and major donors. But my laissez-faire attitude also contributed to the final curtain. I should have gone to more performances. I could have bought season tickets. Had I known that the illness was terminal, I would have been more attentive. Too often, perhaps, I favored Washington or New York for their grander productions. But it's too late now. The fat lady has sung her last aria.
Most Baltimoreans will shrug off the opera's disappearance. So what? they'll ask. It's not like we've lost the Orioles or Ravens - far more popular Baltimore entertainment icons. The demise of either one of those would probably incite a riot, precipitate a City Hall demonstration or at the least fill a special section in the newspaper. Instead, my beloved opera went quietly, without fanfare.
Most of my friends don't "get" opera. They think it is a snobby, elitist indulgence. But even those who prefer Garth Brooks to Placido Domingo should mourn this death.
Until this month, the Baltimore Opera Company was a vital part of our cultural ecosystem for 58 years - a vibrant connection to art, grace and beauty. Our own opera was a bona fide status symbol for a frequently tarnished town. Baltimore often makes news because of some horrifying example of the meanness of spirit smoldering in our society. The opera gave us something positive to sing about. It showed off this city's brighter and - dare I say it? - more intellectual side. The opera gave us class.
I'm heeding the wake-up call. It's too late for the opera, but I'm striving to be a better friend to the local symphony orchestra, museums and art galleries.
Frugality is in vogue; even the well-heeled are tightening their belts. But if we want our arts organizations to survive these hard times, we must take action. An extra pair of BSO tickets won't break my budget. Neither will a museum membership.
And I'm spreading the word, too, so others will support Baltimore's classics before it is too late. We can ill afford to let more of the best of this city's identity slip into the abyss.
Mary Ann Treger, a contributing editor to Style magazine, freelances for national and regional newspapers in the United States and United Kingdom. Her e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.