The Seattle Times
April 25, 1971
But then “Tommy” isn’t exactlyÂ straightÂ Â opera.Â Â The p r o d u c t i on, which opens Wednesday nightÂ atÂ the Moore Theater, is something calledÂ Â “rock opera.”
Bette, the female lead, has never sung in anything operÂatic although she’sÂ “been to a fewÂ operas.”Â “My favorite is Die Frau Olrne Schatten.” That’s Strauss isn’t it?” she said.
And Bette (pronounced Bet because her mother didn’t know Bette D a v is proÂ nounced her name “Betty”) has a rather unconventional backgroundÂ for “opera”:
She used to sing in men’s steam Â houses.
Her hair wanders about a footÂ outÂ onÂ eachÂ sideÂ of herÂ head and she looks like a candidate for Barbra StreisÂ and’sÂ youngest,Â wildestÂ and wiriest sister. SheÂ doesn’t sing likeÂ Barbra,Â however. She said:
“I sound like the girl whoÂ singsÂ Â Â “TommyÂ Â Â CanÂ Â Â YouÂ Hear Me?” (in theÂ recording of “Tommy” made by its creators,Â The Who.)
Bette’s publicity describes her sound as “rock blues.” but she says she “sings almost everything -whatever appeals to my emotion and intellect.”
And about every kind of music is represented by the sponsors of Â “Tommy” Â – TheÂ SeattleÂ Opera AssociaÂtionÂ is presentingÂ it. in coopÂeration with The Seattle Repertory Theater and KOL Radio.
Bette considers “Tommy” operatic because, “It is all singing,Â andÂ noÂ speaking. And becauseÂ everything flows musically, and it’s as exciting as any opera could be.”
THEÂ PLOTÂ of Â “Tommy” Â is as complicated as any traÂditional opera plot: Tommy goes deaf, dumb and blind through trauma. Tommy reÂgains his senses after going through a modern sort of Dante’s Hell. He becomes a rock star, and the plots gets even thicker.
Bette sings Tommy ‘s mother as well as the Acid Queen, who seduces Tommy, She said the roles are “the heaviestÂ I’veÂ everÂ Â had.” And that the queen “has nothing to do with acid or drugs.”
“She has to do with the ferociousness of female sexÂuality. It’s not just a sexual seduction.Â It’sÂ symbolicÂ of the gigantic commercialization of femaleness.”
According to Bette, “None of Tommy is meant to be taken literally.
It’sÂ allÂ Â symbolic Â andÂ itsÂ message is timeless,Â Â she Â said. “It’s about how we covÂer our eyes, our ears and cut off our tongues and how we isolate ourselves and how we are isolated by society.
“TheÂ Â realÂ Â message, I guess, is how important it is to find freedom and that youÂ can’tÂ findÂ itÂ throughÂ God orÂ drugs or through anythingÂ but yourself.”
SYMBOLICÂ ITÂ mayÂ be, but overtly thereÂ areÂ shockers in the production. As to howÂ theÂ audienceÂ might reÂact, Bette said:Â “I think they’ll be wiped out. ‘Tommy’ will open up something people are not ready for.”
She wants “everyone to come,” and – thinks “the freaks will come because they already know the score, But I hope the older, more sedate people will come too, because theyÂ areÂ interested in opera and should be curiÂous about what we can Â do.”
About herself Bette had two things to say:
“I eat a lot. I am tiny” and the first thing anyone ever says to me is , ‘Oh, you’re so short!'”
She’d rather have people say “Oh you look like Bette Midler, but you’re too short.”