When I was 12 and far more interested in horses than high culture, my father dragged my sisters and me to a student production of The Pirates of Penzance in the gymnasium at the University of Alabama. I had seen plenty of movies by then and had watched plays on television, but nothing prepared me for the experience of live theater. For two hours I barely breathed as I watched people in opulent costumes animate a world I did not know existed. As they sang, danced and fought with swords, I twitched in my seat. Every emotion I saw on stage flew into my own body. When it was all over, it had all happened to me. Without opening my mouth, I had just played every part in my first comic opera.