Thursday, January 21, 2010
George Jellinek was the kindest man I ever knew. I did not know him well, or for very long, but he was enormously generous in sharing his knowledge, not only of vocal music but of the humanities, of LIFE, and he always spoke to me as if I were his peer, and that I will never be. George died a few days ago at the age of 90. A friend pointed out to me in my sadness, "that was ninety years very well lived" and he's right. Very well lived in the sense of providing education and enjoyment to thousands from his wonderful radio series The Vocal Scene, originating at his home base, WQXR is New York, and achieving a long productive life in syndication. Today, George would be blogging and posting all over the web and boy would we be lucky.
I met George in the early 1980s. I was trying to figure out what to do after grad school at NYU. I lived in a dump, and had funky and delightful friends (many now gone and that's another reason for tears)and sold records (RECORDS not yet CDs) at Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue. I found myself a panelist on the august Texaco Opera Quiz-the story how THAT happened is told elsewhere on this blog. (Type Richard Mohr in the search engine)There I was with Edward Downes, Alberta Masiello, Father Owen Lee, the most articulate and intelligent of people, and with George Jellinek. I was a devotee of the vocal scene (YOU should have been) and had read his biography of Maria Callas, which apparently had not annoyed that lady. George was modest and kind. He never let me feel like I was a kid record salesman with no right to be there. Quite the contrary (and this was true of every person I ever encountered on the Met Quiz over twenty years). George didn't care I was wearing a borrowed suit and had to leave before the last act of "Eugene Onegin" to work the evening shift at B&N. He and his dear wife Hedy fed me occasionally and took me to concerts I never could have approached on my $200/week. Victoria de los Angeles at the Manhattan School of Music was unforgettable, as was her very warm embrace of George and Hedy after the performance and her smile at me, as if she knew I was lucky to be in their presence rather than hers...and I was.
George wrote two more books in his later years. "History Through the Opera Glass" is indispensable for those who love Don Carlo or Boris Godunov and what to know what REALLY happened. "My Road to Radio and The Vocal Scene: Memoirs of an Opera Commentator" takes him from refugee to radio star (he'd shake his head at that description). I recommend both warmly. Even better, listen to recordings of your favorite operas and your favorite singers, enjoy them, think of George and fall in love with the music all over again. That would be a lovely tribute to a lovely man.