When someone says that opera is their life, you naturally think – singer? composer? conductor?
Not in this case.
For Shawnet Sweets, her opera life is as a fan and as the Second Assistant Treasurer in LA Opera’s box office. But, when she’s not selling tickets, Shawnet travels the world to see opera and she finds other ways to make opera part of her life.
You see, Shawnet is also a philanthropist. She decided she’d ride in the AIDS Lifecycle: The Ride to End Aids. This is an annual seven-day bike ride to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Participants raise money and then ride on average 80 miles a day, for seven days, from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
How does opera fit into this story?
Shawnet’s favorite operas give her strength to complete the 560-mile ride.
First off, her sassy, Cannondale bike is named Tosca.
“Tosca is one of my favorite operas, but that’s not the reason I named my bike Tosca. When I was learning how to clip in and out of pedals on the bike, I kept falling. I fell so many times it was scary. Every time I fell, I thought of Tosca, leaping off the Castel Sant’Angelo at the end of the opera. So, I named my bike Tosca,” explains Sweets.
She continues, “The lyrics to Tosca’s aria, Vissi d’Arte, are on the left front fork of my bike. I have that aria in my head every time I go down a hill. It’s peaceful and the aria helps me keep a safe speed when I’m on descent.”
That’s not all. Sweets also rides with mini opera composer toys on her helmet.
“I can only climb hills on my bike with an aria in my head, so having the opera composers on my helmet helps me,” says Sweets. “Before I climb a hill, like the “evil twins” on the AIDS ride, I pick a composer and an aria from one of their operas and hear it over and over in my head until I’m at the top of the hill. There’s a hill called the “quad buster” on the AIDS ride. It takes the entire first act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro to get me to the top of that hill.”
On this opera journey, Shawnet may not have seen a show, but she and her 2300 fellow bike riders raised a total of $15,170,771 for AIDS research.
Cheers to you, Shawnet.
To learn more about LA Opera and our upcoming 17/18 season, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.