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Friday, September 13, 2013

Denise


I always called her Rose. I called her Rose when she was in what she called, "the hair, the make-up". I would say, Look, here's Mrs. Rose Kennedy, straight off the beach at Hyannisport. The name stuck. Denise and I were Bostonians of a certain age and the Kennedy mystique worked for us.

I met Denise in 1975 at a master class. She sang Schubert's 'Nachtviolen' for David Blair McCloskey. She was a big girl in a big dress with "the hair and makeup" and a good bit of 'tude. McCloskey was a rock star among voice teachers, but you couldn't prove it by our Denise. She sang beautifully. He made some suggestions to her and I remember her hand going to her hip as she said, "Really? That's a new one"!

About the hand on hip business. Denise was a nice girl from a rough part of Boston who was taken to the nice suburbs by her father when she was in junior high. Her Dad was a cop, out of Dorchester, Mass. (dahchestah) Her mother was from the same neighborhood. Al was a kindly, sweet man and Denise adored him. He died around 1982. Her mother was Florence Dorothea McGonagle, also from Dorchester. "Mumma lived across the way from the Fitzgeralds.", Denise would say.  She meant Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy's Fitzgerald's (there's RFK again). What you need to know is that the Kennedy matriarch left behind two brothers who didn't fare very well and lived in Dorchester long past the town's prime, and their own. Nevertheless, they were still the Fitzgeralds.

Denise's mother died only recently. When I knew her she was an upfront lady impressed and intimidated by no one. After one of Denise's college recitals, Mrs. Pineau was heard to say, "Very nice, lovey. If you keep this up maybe you can be on Lawrence Welk."

Denise had an older sister, Diane-also a great personality. Sadly, the same cancer took Diane a few years ago. Diane's children were the joy of their aunt's life. I only know one of them, as an infant. But her legacy is in wonderful hands.

At another of Denise's concerts, given in a lovely parish hall in Brookline Massachusetts, Mrs. Pineau walked on to the platform mid song and tapped Denise on the shoulder. "Take my coat, lovey. It's very cold in this damned church." If looks coulda killed.....I loved Mrs. Pineau.

 I love this for Denise:





Denise and I were friends, then more, then not so much, then settled into a relationship where we were each very important people in one another's lives, (I flatter myself)  Immaturity (mine) had kept us apart. I knew everything about her and she knew everything about me. She saw me straight into AA. She knelt next to me at my own mother's wake in 1986. After several years of non-communication, she was there on a horrible day for me, no words needed.

I have a wife and a daughter and cherish both of them. It was my wife who insisted I go to New York this week and sit with Denise during her final days. Class. Again,  words were unnecessary.

One of my favorite Denise moments was in 1982. Dane Joan Sutherland was returning to the Met after an absence. She would sing Lucia with Alfredo Kraus  I had moved to New York in 1979 for grad school at NYU. Standing room at the Met was was $2.00 in 1979. You could get a seat at City Opera for $4.00 (don't get me started.)  The only way to hear Dame Joan was to hit the standing room line at 4.a.m on Saturday morning. Denise came down from Boston prepared to take on the line. I woke her up at 4 am. . Nothing doing. At 5, at 6, at 9..."I don't do mornings". Finally at 10 she consented to get up and then was off doing "the hair he make up". This was a Saturday morning in a New York winter and we were going to be standing in a line for hours. I said, There's no point going. The tickets go on sale at 11. I was quite pissy. And no we didn't walk or take the subway from  W. 93rd to the Met. We took a cab, goddammit.

On arrival the standing room line was backed way out onto Amsterdam avenue. There were no more places in line. People were buying up tickets to all the performances. Denise looked at the line and looked at me and said, "I'll handle this". She then, silk dress, heels and all walks to the front of the line. There were three gay men guarding the gates like Caronte in a Monteverdi opera. They hissed at Denise. You do not hiss at Denise. She -I swear to God-burst into tears. Real sobs on cue, meanwhile throwing me a wink. The gay men were all over her. Long story short we got in, 4th and 5th in line. I never heard Dame Joan again without thinking of Denise. Dame Joan never had it so so good.

Denise offered me direct, honest and generous love before I was ready. It was a relationship just out of kilter for years. (My bad) Once established in New York she sure needed no help from me. Let me be very clear. CAMI does not have a reputation for benevolence but you'll never prove that by me. Just last week, during what was our last conversation, Denise reiterated that CAMI had always been wonderful to her, and REALLY wonderful since she became ill. I know that she was loved by her colleagues and she had a rich and blessed life in New York I was no part of. (I woulda been tits on a bull, if you'll exscuse the expression)


My memories are of another time, of a young Denise. She loved Roberta Peters, who had come to Denise's home town of  Plymouth Mass, to sing Boheme many years ago. In the 1970s she and I went to a Met-on-tour matinee of Don Giovanni in Boston. April 29, 1978. I looked it up (thank you, Bob Tuggle) Sherrill Milnes, Edda Moser, Roberta Peters. Denise seated herself and twenty minutes into the show leaned over and said "We're leavin' after she sings batti, batti . I'm hungry." Dim sum  instead of Don G., but Roberta Peters didn't need Denise as much as I needed Denise.

 I'm aware of the great life she made for herself,  filled with friends and the devotion of her colleagues. At CAMI she worked with the greatest managers of the greatest artists in the world. I'm sure she never became blase. That Marilyn Horne...MARILYN HORNE would show Denise such friendship and devotion I know had Denise pinching herself.  If I could parade up and down 57th St with a banner saying GOD BLESS CAMI I would do it, except Herself would tell me to shut up and quit embarrassing her.


Julie Morgan, Denise's friend and mine for thirty- five years is the heroine of this story. Julie and Denise and Betsy Smith shared an old house in Brighton. I used to call them Patty, Maxine and LaVern. (Ask your parents). All these years later, Julie supervised Denise's care and was gatekeeper. You see such generosity a few times in your life...if lucky. Denise was lucky.

Julie called me on Tuesday and said, "Come now." I was not prepared for an  unresponsive Denise, no hair, no make-up. I never loved her more than in those last hours. I'm so privileged that I got to sit by her all night long and tell her what has always been in my heart. The  nurses kept sending me out for coffee. (I was probably getting on their nerves. The care she received from the nursing staff and volunteers was incredible) I'm a big believer in vigil. In just sitting and being present. It turns out that was all I could do for Denise at the very end. No more hand on hip. I gave her cold cloths to battle a fever. I kissed her, talked to her, told her stories and told her how much I loved and will always love her. I'm a guy. Guys don't do this stuff. I did. And as I held her hand I heard her voice saying, "Don't be so god damned dramatic. Lovey."

I'm not prepared to live in a world without Denise. Neither are you. We'll learn to do it. Chocolate,  Adele, Dame Joan and certainly Marilyn Horne, as great a lady as she is an artist will help us. I prefer to think of the hug she gave her mother, wearing her mother's coat after a recital, and now of  her life that I wouldn't have missed for the world.





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