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Illustration by Jack Keely

Regina Merwin lives in the Los Angeles area with her long-suffering husband and two neglected children. She is an Opera Mom, an Opera Zealot and a Toscaholic. She is an active volunteer for Los Angeles Opera's Community Programs Department, where her favorite duty is to talk up the opera to LA school children.

Q & A with Regina Merwin

whose Burbank-based offers a line of unusual souvenirs which combine high- and low-culture: Opera-themed floating-action pens.

Q: How did you come up with the concept of the opera floaty pens ?
A: This was a product that simply had to be. I am, after all, an opera zealot, and I wasn't finding the kind of inexpensive relic that really did justice to the drama, the soaring emotional experience that opera delivers, as well as the violence, camp and sex. My idea was to have an opera's emotionally climactic moment acted out again and again within the tiny world of a floaty pen.

Q:  How do you decide which operas to enshrine in float-art?  
A: At first I choose works in which a familiar and intense scene can be depicted in one simple movement. Of these, operas which a regular person would recognize by sight if not by the music, are a good choice if I want to make sales. You see a bullfighter, you know it’s Carmen . Floaties of operas with lots of choristers and supernumeraries are popular, for obvious reasons: everyone in the cast wants a souvenir! And this season I’m trying something new: a Salome stripper pen.  I’m hoping sex sells.
Q: Do you have a favorite pen?  
A: Tosca —that’s the most outrageous, a hard act to follow, and the best-selling. When I first got the idea for the Tosca pens, I debated whether to have Tosca stabbing the bad guy in Act II or jumping to her death in Act III.  We decided to have her jumping because the vertical pen was more interesting visually.  Besides, there are lots of stabbing operas and I knew we could use that concept later for another pen.
Q: How did you have them made?
A: I work with Floaty Industries which is right down the street from me in Burbank. They introduced me to Jack Keely, who illustrated the ‘ Grossology ’ kids’ books. I give him my concept, and he turns it into a stunning work of float-art. Then the pens are manufactured in Denmark.
Q: Who are your customers?
A: My biggest market is music-oriented retail, boutiques run by opera companies or opera leagues, and other eclectic gift shops . I also have a lot of ‘opening night’ gift orders for cast and crew.  Oh, and of course many customers are floaty pen collectors.
Q: What are people’s reactions to the pens?
A: Well, if they are opera people looking at the Tosca pen they either stare at me blankly or just fall on the floor laughing. The other pens get delighted oohs, aahs—and shrieks of recognition at the realization that something in the pen actually moves.  Other people appreciate them because the artwork is exquisite (if I do say so myself) and just nice to hold in your hand, even if you don't know anything about opera.

Q: Any other factors contribute to the pens?  
A: Yes: I am personally fond of the bigger model, rather than the thinner classic model. The magnification on the bigger pen is better and I don't need a microscope to see the detailed scene.

Q: For the future?
A: My fantasy is to design an opera pen that would actually make people weep. To that end I have a concept for a Madama Butterfly pen that is fairly shameless. Also I'd love to do my personal favorite operas Figaro and Falstaff and Don Carlo  someday.  But for the time being, expect to see more pens of operatic favorites with casts of thousands.