Sunday, October 07, 2012

Charles Long: Adventures in the Scream Trade

You gotta love this guy.

Charles Long is a baritone who made a fine career in opera, and a fine career in all areas of music as a singer, instrumentalist and conductor. I remember him from my days of attending New York City Opera performances at the New York State Theater (I refuse to call that wonderful building the David Koch Theater). Charles Long was long, very tall and slim and he moved like the prize fighters he admires.

Now Charles Long has written a memoir called Adventures in the Scream Trade (

Singers memoirs are generally "....and then I sang..." "I starred in..." "this conductor is an idiot... and"" I married this idiot and that idiot. They often go on for hundreds of pages in this vein. There are exceptions. Renee Fleming's book is a wonderful primer of building a career-I've bought it for many a young musician. Galina Vishnevskaya survived the siege of Leningrad and Soviet-era politics. Marilyn Horne shares her one case of crabs treated on a lonely Christmas Eve in Germany. (You gotta love her, too)

Charles Long's book is wickedly and delightfully atypical. He knows where the bodies are buried and he spells out locales, proclivities and locations. Valued names in the arts-many of you will recognize them-get some truth telling-this book says what people know and dare not spill.  The chronology skips around. I had a hard time counting marriages-come to think of it, I believe one was the magic number. Penny Orloff is mentioned as CL's long time companion. He calls her foxy and on stage from the cheap seats foxy she surely was and I'm sure is. Sexual addiction is admitted. There are delightful scenes of the hetero Charles sharing a communal dressing room with some non heterosexual fellas during summer stock. Their lack of  inhibition was a delight not a threat-"I laughed and covered my eyes, which ignited squeals of laughter from bare-assed men dancing in the aisles". (Another blog I use wanted me to say 'bare-bottomed-', but that loses the er, flavor,  if you will,  of the sentence.)

Charles was too fine a musician and too short on patience for bullshit to make a game playing career in opera. There's a lovely cameo of coaching Russian with the elderly baritone George Cehanovsky. Some big names are praised: Shirley Verrett, James McCracken, Placido Doming..some qualified; and some, well, I guess it wasn't fun to sing with Teresa Zylis- Gara. For the rest-and there are plenty-buy the book. It's a delight to read the life of a baritone who's happy to use the noun  bone as a verb.

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