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Welcome to opera camp

Jackson Bell

Regina Merwin adores the bombastic singing, dazzling sets and elegant

costumes of the opera. But what draws her and so many others to the

musical performances is the melodrama.

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“People get into it for all of the sex and violence with revenge

and blood,” she said. "[The opera] is all about passion.”

Merwin, a self-described “opera zealot,” was a stay-at-home

Burbank mom whose obsession with the theater prompted her to start a

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related business. Already making T-shirts and bumper stickers more

for fun than profit, she founded Operagraphics in late 1999, and set

out to create and sell opera-themed floaty pens from home.

The four novelty pens Operagraphics offers are of scenes from “La

Boheme,” “La Traviata,” “Don Giovanni,” and “Tosca.” She said the

pens illustrate each opera’s pivotal moment in a campy manner, such

as The Diva from “Tosca” falling from a building or a list of Don

Giovanni’s lovers that lengthens.

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“The gamble when making these was whether opera lovers would go

for something that is kind of kitschy,” Merwin said. “When people see

the ‘Tosca’ pen, they either stare at me blankly or fall on the floor

laughing.”

Three of the four pens cost $6 each. The “Tosca” pen sells for $5.

So far, Merwin has sold about 1,300, mainly by wholesale to

music-themed stores or the gift shops at opera venues.

Merwin conceived the idea for the floaty pens with her friend

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Susan Vandiver Nicassio, the author of “Tosca’s Rome: The Play and

the Opera in Historical Perspective.” She then hired an illustrator

and collaborated with Burbank’s Floaty Industries to make them.

The whole process, she said, takes about a year.

Silverlake resident Mary Corrigan said the meticulousness is

worth it because the creativity and craftsmanship is outstanding. As

an owner of three, Corrigan said she likes the pens for two reasons.

“They are tongue-in-cheek and fun without being disrespectful to

the opera,” she said. “And it’s easy to find the bright-colored pens

in a dark purse.”


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