They call him Opera Bob

Robert Mason, a.k.a. Opera Bob

Photo By Larry Dalton

Sacramento native Robert Mason, a.k.a. Opera Bob, is a local opera buff. The 61-year-old retired eighth-grade teacher has been a fan of opera since college. Now, he shares his knowledge with patrons of the Tower Records on Broadway.

Where did you get your opera knowledge?

I was introduced to opera in college. I’m a classic addictive personality, and when I heard Leonie Rysanek’s high B flat on the RCA Dutchmen, it was like taking drugs. I was hooked from there. I used a bus ticket I got from my parents to go to New York. I ended up meeting Leonie at the Metropolitan Opera House. I went every night, and we became lifelong friends.

Are you fluent in Italian?

I’m fluent in pigeon opera. I’ve been to Italy four times and have actually been able to get by knowing just that. It also works in Spain, and the locals appreciate the fact that I’m trying but not overdoing it. Spain also plays a big role in opera.

How useful is your opera knowledge at Tower Records?

It’s very useful. People are very grateful for help with classics. I actually fell into Tower by accident. I taught U.S. history for 32 years before retiring. I’ve worked here for a year and love it. I took the place of a woman named Rose, who was the previous opera aficionado. The staff at Tower has been really good to me. They are a wonderful group. I’m accepted and treated well even though I’m older than they are. Tower actually has the best opera selection in town. I’ve worked for a year and a half to make it that way.

What is your favorite opera house?

The San Francisco Opera Company. It’s a beautiful building. The Met is a very close second. Two years ago, I went there and saw a ring circle. A ring circle is four operas over a four-day period. It lasts a total of 14 hours. It was amazing. It is actually the longest piece of art ever made.

Is Sacramento a hot spot for opera?

Sacramento has a wonderful opera company. It is hard for anything to grow right now in this economy, but they are a reputable company. San Francisco may be what people think of when they think of opera—and for good reason; it’s the second best opera city in the country—but, as far as the amount of work, Sacramento does well. I love this city and what is happening here. [Downtown] is a happening area. There’s the bookstore, café and java lounge all right here.

What is your favorite opera?

It’s a three-way tie between Bellini’s Norma with Maria Callas, Richard Strauss’ Electra and Wagner’s Parisifal. Electra tells the story of a daughter who murders her mother. There is tragedy, love and sex.

What would you suggest as a beginner opera?

Definitely Electra. It’s short, only an hour and 15 minutes, but it’s hard. You’ve got to start with the hard stuff. Nothing easy, it’s better to start strong. If I took you to see it, you would be overwhelmed but wanting more.

When is opera season?

Opera season goes from the end of September until around Christmas. It then starts up in the spring and lasts until the end of the summer. I can’t wait until it starts here soon. I’ve already got my tickets.

How would you describe opera music?

Opera has been my friend, my lover, my family, everything. Whatever happens, there’s always next season.

What is your favorite kind of music besides opera?

I like all kinds. I like rock, soul, even rap. The best bands to see in concert, though, are Pink Floyd, U2 and The Rolling Stones. We’re talking for an arena that seats 50,000 people, these guys are pure sound. I’ve seen Pink Floyd 27 times.

Do you sing?

Absolutely not. I have no musical talent whatsoever. I have gifted ears.