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Subject: Re: My First Experience
From: Robert Long <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Robert Long <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 26 Oct 1998 20:51:32 GMT

text/plain (110 lines)

On Mon, 26 Oct 1998 22:46:19 +0900, Yukihiro Ishii wrote:

|That's been my story. What is yours?

What a lovely memoir!  Mine is not so romantic, I fear.  At
least, not in the same, gently bittersweet way.

On February 22,1946, when I was a Princeton sophomore, I
went to the Met with my best friend and roommate of those
years, now musicologist Michael Steinberg, whom some on the
list may know.  I believe it was his first time at the Met,
though surely not his first opera.  As far as I can recall,
it was my first brush with Grand Opera in any form except
occasional isolated arias on disc (the Rethberg "Leise,
leise" among them).

We sat in the Family Circle and watched a performance of
Carmen in the old Joseph Urban sets, then very shabby, but
suggesting the glory they must have been when they were new.
As an architecture major, that was the first thing that
grabbed me.

I remember only two of the performers, and on looking up the
cast I see why: they were the only truly memorable
participants that night.  The Carmen was Lily Djanel.  I'll
never forget the scene in Act II when she realizes that Don
José is planning to return to the barracks without making
love to her because the retreat has sounded.  When she came
to "Prends ton sako..." etc., she hurled each item across
the stage with such venom that the dismayed tenor visible

It was the night of the tenor's Met debut, and the only time
I ever saw him live: Ramón Vinay.  I remember him as
slightly flabby of form but in glorious voice.  Friends who
saw him later have said they were more impressed by his
appearance and acting than by his sheer voice.  Perhaps he
had made a point of resting up to be in top vocal form for
the debut.  In any event, that slight tendency toward flab
suited the "mama's boy" element in Don José.

(Imagine finally encountering the girl you've said you love
and plan to marry and being unable to discuss anything with
her but how much you love your mom!  Admittedly, half way
through the duet he does get around to saying, "Well, let's
talk about you, messenger-girl."  And what does he ask her
to talk *about*?  "How soon are you leaving?"  Gimme a

My fascination with that opera and the interpersonal
dynamics between its two main characters has never waned.
Naturally I bought the Vinay/Swarthout 78s and, later, the
Jobin/Michel LPs and sang along with both when I though
nobody was listening.

The only time I ever knowingly let anyone hear me was in
1950, when one of my friends was an aspiring tenor named
Terry McEwen.  As we were walking along a dusty back road in
the Laurentians one summer day, he proposed that we sing the
final duet, he as Don José and me doing a baritone Carmen.
It was a disaster.  Terry soon stopped me, complaining that
he couldn't keep up with my constant key changes.
Fussbudget!  (My wife--a classical singer and singing
teacher--always had the same complaint until recently, when
she found she needed more basses for her chorus.)

Before I met my wife, I met a real Carmen.  I'd better not
use her name, since I don't know what became of her.  She
was a jazz singer, and as far as I could tell a good one.
She also was French, and a hippie.  I suppose I must have
seemed like something of a mama's boy to her.  I was
certainly very square by comparison.  She improvised her
life from moment to moment, accommodating practical
necessities to her fierce passions.  The months during which
we "kept company" were among the most exciting (and stormy)
of my life, but we sure were an odd couple.

The image of Carmen and José kept recurring during those
months as a rough paradigm for the tempestuous relation
between the two of us.  I eventually even considered doing a
loose translation of the Merimée novella, set in New York in
the 1950s or early 1960s and including the Cedar Bar (I
think that's what it was called--on University Place, where
Alan Ginsberg hung out) as one of the settings.  Heady

That was in 1959.  Terry, with whom my correspondence had
long since lapsed after his move to England and Decca
Records, was then in New York as the director of London
Classical, but he had become so well known that I felt very
diffident about contacting him.  When my Carmen found that I
knew him, however, she insisted that I phone him and make a
date for us to have a drink together.

As soon as we sat down with him, she began pitching him to
record her and her jazz friends--though he was specifically
charged with classical music, not jazz.  I was so
embarrassed I din't know what to do.  It was the first time
I'd seen Terry in over 8 years, and here my girlfriend was
trying to wheedle favors from him.  Mortifying!  "Si je
t'aimes, prends garde à toi!"  Don Josés should never be as
trusting as I was.

I later phoned Terry to apologize, but we never saw one
another again, nor did I see my Carmen much after that.  I
guess an Escamillo came into her life.  Or was it an

Bob Long
([log in to unmask])

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