After my "Addendum" posting about comprimarios and "apprentice programs" I
remembered about a young tenor who was in one of those kinds of programs and
sang some nice secondary roles (Normanno in LUCIA and Hervey in BOLENA - a
telecast with Joan Sutherland! - among them). He got told by the General
Director of the company that he would never have an operatic career because of
his size, so he should just give up the idea of having a career in opera. Not
too long ago in Seattle that tenor sang his first Tristan. And at the TRISTAN
performance the day before yesterday that same General Director (who has a
very different tenor in his TRISTAN for this fall somewhat south of here) was
in the audience to see his "reject". I wonder what was going on in that
"Persian" mind all night.
Here is a case of not just being left in the dust by the wayside - but of
being ACTIVELY DISCOURAGED by a management. Luckily for us Ben Heppner decided
NOT to take the advice given to him by Lotfi Mansouri. And I am sure that when
Ben had to "jump in" to save a LOHENGRIN at SFO some while back (making his
house debut in the process) there must have been some really mixed bags of
emotions at the War Memorial Opera House that night.
Yes, you can go from "Comprimario to Tristan" (or Tannhauser, Otello, or
Whatever), but there has to be a breaking away from WHERE the secondary roles
are being sung. McCracken had leave the Met and go to Europe and return as an
already established Otello, Manrico, etc. - he had to practice being (and I
hate to use this terminology) a "real tenor". Ben had to go touring all over
Canada as (if I remember properly from what he said) Rodolfo and Camille de
Rosillon in MERRY WIDOW (!) to get the practice of really performing big roles
in front of a real audience.
Many of this century's GREAT tenors started small - and sometime VERY quickly
got recognized. Bjoerling's first stage outing was as the Lamplighter in MANON
LESCAUT - but within a few weeks he was doing leads. Wunderlich was one of the
Meisters in MvonN in Stuttgart - and later that same season a Tamino! Domingo
was a character tenor in pieces like CHENIER with di Stefano as the lead! And
he is on the Spanish language version of MY FAIR LADY as Jamie (one of
Doolittle's cronies). Carreras is the Flavio on the "pirate" of Caballe's
first NORMA. - and a charming tenor Siebel in FAUST too!
Very few singers jump in right at the top - yes, there are the Rosa Ponselle's
making debuts in FORZA and Varnay's first operatic peformance ever as a Met
broadcast Sieglinde - they are few and far between. Most careers are BUILT
from the bottom up. von Stade was Wowkle - Stratas a Poussette - or a Javotte
- one of those MANON trio of doxies - and a GREAT Inez to Price's first
broadcast Leonora in TROVATORE. Milnes toured with the Boris Goldowsky company
in DON GIOVANNI as Masetto, not the Don. Ramey was a Zuniga at NYCO long
before he did an Escamillo. So it is not a crime not to emerge a fullblown
"star" at first exposure.
"Being in the right place at the right time" - "Making the right person happy"
-Sheer luck - "Chutspah" - so many more things go into the begining of a
career than just a wonderful voice and a lot of talent.
The first time I worked with Renee Fleming - on the Pittsburgh Opera Theatre
tour of MARRIAGE OF FIGARO - she was doing her last Susanna's - she'd just
done her break through performances as the Contessa in Houston - but was
honoring her commitment to Mildred Miller's company which had given her a much
needed break. I didn't believe what I was hearing in such a small company. I
asked her 'where" she had been - and she told me frankly that for the longest
time in NYC she "couldn't give it away." No one was interested. Until Mr.
Gockley. He gave her the chance and the rest is history. So, you see, there
have been (and ARE) great singers out there about whom hardly anyone one knows
- because somehow or another they have "fallen through the cracks". Renee was
a Prime Example.
It brings to mind the poem that begins "Full many a gem of purest ray
serene".....If you take the time to find the poem and look at the rest of the
text you will know what I am talking about.
Sorry to have "rambled" - too many ideas - too little space! Scattershot
Yours in Seattle,