Monday, March 25, 2013

Reading Old Opera News

I thought of several alternatives to 'old' in the above title, but somehow back issue or out of print didn't cut it.

I got a phone call a few months ago. The gentleman said, my father loved your station and loved you.He's left you boxes of Opera News magazine, and crates of tapes. Grateful and intrigued, I arranged for a drop off of said loot and shook hands with the nice gentleman and his gorgeous two year old daughter.

Then I heaved my 50 plus plus plus sized-self boxes and all and found a corner for them in the studio. No thought of taking them home. Most of my CD collection is in exile for lack of space. I'm going to make room for dated magazines when there's no room for Rosa Ponselle's 1936 Carmen broadcast? I think not

Max Rudolf
I've been reading Opera News, the publication of he Metropolitan Opera Guild since I was twelve. Yes, I was a weird kid, but there you are.  That was the late sixties. Back then Tebaldi, Tucker, Corelli, Merrill, Sutherland, Price, Bergonzi, Sills, Peters and Moffo were all in full cry. The Pav and Domingo were just hitting the big time.Most of them toured and eventually I saw them all at Boston's cavernous John B. Hynes Civic Auditorium (the War Memorial in my day) Diana Damrau, Ann Netrebko, Juan Diego Florez, Simon Keenlyside and Natalie Dessay were either yet to be born or not long out of diapers. Conductors featured back then were Thomas Schippers, Karl Bohm, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, Zubin Mehta, Fausto Cleva and the barely out of teens James Levine. Elanor Steber popped up occasionally and Callas was planning a comeback.
Robert Jacobson

My late friend left crates of Opera News going back to 1983. That's the first year I participated in Texaco Opera Quiz. I was a guest-and occasional host-on and off for twenty years. The current management was not for me and clearly the feeling is mutual but I was the kid in the Golden Age (hello, Father Lee!) and my name is listed in many of these magazines, to my joy. How great to relive some exciting times.

Christopher Keene
There's an interview with conductor Max Rudolf, (December 7, 1991) the reading of which is like a mini master class in conducting Mozart. Eleanor Steber is full of herself and loving it in a 1990 interview, possibly her last? She goes on about her joie de vivre and admires Maria Ewing. That lady is at the center of the March 1986 Carmen issue-her portrayal of the gypsy previewed with excitement and later acknowledged as a disasters. The wonderful Phillis Curtin is gorgeous on the cover in 1992. At one point she lets fly with commentary on being bumped from the New York City Opera 'Giulio Cesare' in favor of Beverly Sills: "That's when the knife went in my back."

Leonie Rysanek as Kostenicka in Jenufa
Leonie Rysanek tells us that her Kostelnicka will be terrific complete with high Cs (March 15, 1986) Magda Olivero,  in her eighties and quite young (today is her 103rd birthday) had just recorded scenes from Adriana Lecouvreur. Pavarotti celebrated  his 50th birthday (March 29, 1986) and talks of restudying Idomeneo. A girl called Dolora Zajick was beginning to win prizes (1985) and Renee Fleming was one of "ten singers to watch" (1989)

AIDS slowly began to decimate the arts around 1984. Obituaries of young artists appear. Robert Jacobson, editor of Opera News, died in 1987. The baritone Wayne Turnage was the center of a "Living with AIDS' feature in 1990. His gaunt photograph brought back that terrible time. He talked of a rapid decline in health and isolation relieved by the first of many support groups. He died before the article saw print. It's terrible that I can find not one photo of Wayne Turnage on line.John Reardon died. Bill  Harwood, a promising young conductor was the first I heard of to die of pneumonia. I said to a friend "It's 1982. Who dies of pneumonia in 1982?" Christopher Keene at the New York City Opera always looks dashing in these Opera News photos, belying the AIDS and alcoholism that would take his life.

Rockwell Blake was a young tenor. Chris Merritt was singing Rossini;s Otello everywhere. Marilyn Horne did her first Mistress Quickly and retired her Rossini repertoire. Dame Joan added Anna Bolena and Ophelia in Hamlet. Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Daniel Patrick Stearns, Dale Harris (a loss to ADIS) Father Owen Lee and Philip L Miller were among the contributors. The issue of July 1988 has Dolora Zajick and Richard Leech on the cover, kids then, and the Letters column argues the pros and cons of super titles.

It's nostalgia and a lot of it is poignant and sad. On the other hand, this past weekend at the Columbus Symphony./Ballet Met collaboration the packed house was filled with  20-somethings on a date night. There's hope yet for new audiences and publications serving them.

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