The Sweet Life of an Opera Lady

I’m on my way to the other side of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a meeting. A couple minutes late, I hurry down to the corner of the world that houses LA Opera’s box office team. Something catches my eye. It’s a mural, painted on the side of a wall that includes scenes from various operas. I think, “Well, that’s gorgeous,” and go on my merry way.

MarriageFigaro

Pretty Yende as Susanna, Ryan McKinny as the Count and Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio in the 2015 production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

That’s when I run into the lady of the hour, LA Opera’s 2nd Assistant Treasurer, Shawnet Sweets. This is the first time we’re meeting and she greets me with a smile and a hug.  I soon realize that this is part of Shawnet’s personality. She’s one of the most jovial people I’ve met at the company and nothing makes the native Angeleno happier than chatting about opera.

As we walk through the plaza together, I discover that Shawnet has worked for the company on and off for twenty years. However, her love of opera did not begin when she walked through the doors of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It began when her grandmother, Constance, took her to see The Marriage of Figaro in 1967. According to Shawnet, she was too young to comprehend the story, but she was taken aback by the music’s raw emotion. From that moment on, she was hooked.

Shawnet gained a great appreciation of classical music and opera from Constance.  She jokes that while growing up, you could hear her Mozart record and her mother’s Aretha Franklin record playing simultaneously in various parts of the house. This musically eclectic upbringing not only prepared Shawnet for a position at LA Opera, but also opened up her world to the fact that art and music can bring people together. She has known her purpose in life ever since.  She says, “Some people save lives. I get people to go to the opera.”

To that end, Shawnet has taken to “opera hopping,” where she will go out of state to see one operatic performance, and then be at LA Opera the next day. She also created an opera club for those new to the art form, and suggests that newbies start off with classic operas, such as Barber of Seville, Madame Butterfly, or The Magic Flute.

David Daniels as Guilio Cesare and Elizabeth Futral as Cleopatra in the 2001 production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare

At this point in our conversation, I ask, “What’s your favorite opera?” Without hesitation, she responds, “Julius Caesar.” A fan of Baroque opera, Shawnet saw LA Opera’s 2001 production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare with David Daniels and Elizabeth Futral. That particular performance still affects her years later. Shawnet calls Giulio Cesare her favorite LA Opera production (and she has seen a plethora of them). Shawnet remembers Constance saying, “One day, you’re going to hear a singer that’s going to change your life.” For Shawnet, Elizabeth Futral is that singer, making Giulio Cesare an even more important performance in the span of her opera filled life.

While walking Shawnet back to her office, we pass the opera mural that had stopped me in my tracks earlier. She starts to describe her inspirations for the piece and I realize that I should’ve known it was hers. Who else would draw such a lovely, opera inspired mural?

Shawnet’s chalk art of Plácido Domingo conducting

Shawnet in front of her opera inspired office mural

I am more in love with opera after chatting with Shawnet. I find myself perusing the internet in search of opera tickets with the curious hope of finding some of Shawnet’s light and artistic passion. That’s her gift.

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