Just another Saturday afternoon broadcast...
Gala Farewell to the Ol House - LIFE Magazine Photos

Santa Fe Opera 2000
Wagner Society Honors Lucine Amara
Astrid Varnay: The Final Conversation
Olive Middleton: The Recorded Legacy
Astrid Varnay documentary: "Never before"
In the presence of Greatness

My first operatic experience was a performance (or was it a dress rehearsal) of Butterfly in 1966 in my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. The only cast member I can remember was Placido Domingo. This took place a few years after his American debut in the same city where he sang Edgardo to Lily Pons' Lucia., which was her operatic farewell. Anyway,....,

The Texas Boys Choir provided further operatic experience. On tour (in Wisconsin, I believe) I witnessed an all-black cast in a double-bill of "Trial by Jury" and "Pagliacci". The only thing I remember was that the stage right set fell during the final scene of Pagliacci.

In 1968, the Texas Boys Choir was invited to sing in two productions of the Santa Fe Opera's opening season in the newly-rebuilt theater. I sang the First Spirit in a Bliss Hebert/Willa Kim production of "The Magic Flute", conducted by Robert Baustian. The cast was special: Rita Shane, Benita Valente, Patricia Wise, Evelyn Mandac/Barbara Shuttleworth/Jean Kraft, Stuart Burrows, Donald Gramm, Peter Harrower, Gimi Beni and, of course, Ragnar Ulfung. With twelve other boys, I also sang in Stravinsky's "Perséphone"; which was done in concert version because the director/narratrix, Vera Zorina, reportedly turned down five different sets of costume designs (or maybe Santa Fe ran out of money). Their Rosenkavalier was done with no sets, and they did eight productions that season!).

Anyway..., The next season at Santa Fe, I sang Second Spirit in Flute (the cast included Jeanette Scovotti, Doris Yarick, William Workman) and the role of the Shepherd Boy in Tosca. That was with Mirna Lacambra/La Niska, Erik Townsend/George Shirley and John Reardon/William Dooley, John Crosby conducting. I remember singing the Shepherd Boy a few times at the dress rehearsal. We experimented acoustically - even trying the roof - but opted for backstage.

In conservatory (Peabody and Curtis), I sang Mozart's Count, the Clock in L'Enfant, Silvio, and Michelle in Tabarro (replacing someone only in a dress rehearsal). I also sang with the Chesapeake Opera (Schaunard, Yamadori), the Baltimore Opera (Third Jew), and the Opera Company of Philadelphia (Hermann in Hoffman, Perichaud in Rondiné where I became a fan of Diana Soviero, José Castro (Niska replacing Barlow at the dress rehearsal and really taking over the production/conductor/director/horse and all), Count di Luna (learned in a weekend to temporarily replace Wolfgang Brendel).

I've heard some wonderful performances in my time, some important ones that were rather historic. The first one that comes to mind is Victoria de los Angeles' first Carmen onstage with James King; a Die Frau ohne Schatten with Leonie Rysanek, Ursula Schroder-Feinen, Mignon Dunn, James King, Walter Berry and Karl Böhm, a concert version Tristan with Jess Thomas and Eileen Farrell, the New York debut of Ghena Dimitrova in OONY's Nabucco, the OONY Jenufa with Rysanek, Magda Olivero in Fedora (I was thirteen; the only thing I remember is that at one moment, she was singing flat on her stomach), a 1972 Dallas Butterfly with Renata Scotto, Gilda Cruz-Romo and Placido Domingo in my first Un Ballo in Maschera and La bohme, Cruz-Romo in my first Andrea Chenier and Verdi Réquiem, my first Pelléas et Mélisande with Teresa Stratas, Raymond Gibbs and Gabriel Bacquier and the above-mentioned Philadelphia Soviero Rondiné. Also, I must mention recitals and concerts: Robert Merrill in 1965, Birgit Nilsson in 19š72, Gérard Souzay from 1979 to 1991, Leontyne Price in 1978. They donšt mak e'em anymore.

Another operatic experience that I am especially proud of was performing Dominick Argento's one-man operatic tour-de-force, "A Waterbird Talk" in Baltimore on February 4 and 24, 1991.

I was made aware of its existence by the brilliant composer Stephen Paulus, whose "Artsongs" I gave the New York premiere of at Alice Tully Hall on November 4, 1985. I immediately bought the score, flew to Syracuse just to see Douglas Perry do a superlative performance, found out it was immensely challenging and gratifying at the same time, but no performance coming up so... Via my friend Lynn Taylor Hebden, my alma mater, the Peabody Institute invited me to perform it at an Argento tribute they were planning. I started to work, and with relish, I learned it very quickly and feel most proud of the result. I, like Perry, played the piano onstage, as is required (IIMO) by the score.

Go back to the HomePage

Go to the only opera