Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Giorgio Tozzi Remembered

A dear friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous, let’s call him LeporBBello,  just sent me this remembrance. It is so beautifully written that I want to share it with you. Whatever I could say about Maestro, it all pales in the face of  the remembrance of someone who was in his presence on a daily basis.

Take it over LeporBBello:

Giorgio Tozzi was one of the most beautiful artistic flowers to bloom out of the social desert created by two world wars and the Great Depression. He sang originally out of necessity to feed his parents and family, and became operatic legend. He was a true “American” artist, living in popular medium as comfortably as the grandest operatic repertoire. Due to an injury two years into his  twenty year Met career, he needed to perceive pitch by “feel” rather than by it’s sound, making his considerable artistic accomplishments even more inconceivable.

There are few artists in whom one can hear as much pure humanity in the sound – he was a man born to communicate. To spend a moment with this man was to be forever changed, and he will be greatly missed by everyone who ever met him.

Giorgio loved music. He loved the human form, and depictions of it in photographs and painting. Giorgio hated liberalism with a passion, and loved to talk about it. He loved his mother and father. Giorgio loved his wife Monte deeply and rarely let his frustration over her own declining health show. He loved his children and grandchildren, and spoke of them with great pride.

Giorgio loved to write, and did so as cleverly as he spoke. Giorgio had a temper. He loved gadgets – his home office was cluttered with computers he had grown tired of, surrounded by digital cameras. He loved American Musical Theater, and hated the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Giorgio wasn’t a drinker, but loved a “Manhattan Cocktail with Canadian Club”. Giorgio had no uvula – it had been removed by a doctor in his youth, along with his tonsils…he didn’t know why. Giorgio hated cd reissues of his recordings. He preferred the mono version of his Figaro. Giorgio hated getting old and wasn’t afraid to say it. Giorgio told the best stories and made even corny jokes funny.

Being a singer who knows Giorgio Tozzi meant that you knew you could do it – you knew you could do it because he did it, and you were just like him…and you knew this because he told you so every time he saw you. There was no more positive man towards a young singer than this man – you felt this positivity until you opened up one of his recordings and actually tried to imitate what he was able to do. His legato was unparalleled, his diction was flawless, his sound was warm and uniquely human, and his stage acting was natural and deeply moving before it was a necessary goal of an operatic artist. He was an unusually humble man, particularly considering his amazing gifts.

For my part, today I lost something with no definition or descriptive words. Father, mentor, friend…role model?…forget these silly words we use to describe ordinary people – Giorgio Tozzi is otherworldly. He lives on in every person he touched and continues to touch in his peerless recordings, the numerous artists who were able to receive his message in person as pupils, and in the hearts of those fortunate enough to witness his artistry in person.

Giorgio was a genuine gentleman, and I am proud to have been his friend.


This was the man within the legend and the reason so many mourn his passing today


May 31, 2011 Posted by | In memoriam | 2 Comments

Adieu Giorgio Tozzi

Maestro Giorgio Tozzi


What can I tell you about Giorgio Tozzi that you don’t already know? If you are an opera buff, the name alone means “golden age,” so what could I possibly say about him that has not been said, written or spoken somewhere?

Maestro (that is what I called him since the day I met him) was one of the sweetest men I ever met. I had the honor of being in his presence for the first time in September 1993, when as a first year graduate student at IU I had been cast as Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor; he happened to be the director. Me, being young, immature and not well informed, had no idea who Giorgio Tozzi was. That’s when I went into a little reading spree and realized what a lucky little bastard I was. I was in the presence of one of the most gifted American Bassos of his generation.

From then on, I was starstruck and to the day I left IU, I never stopped being starstruck by him. Maestro was incredibly supportive, there was not one general audition that he didn’t come to me to talk to me and provide me with feedback and words of encouragement. Even in my darkest moments, I could count on Maestro to brighten up my day and make me feel I counted. Even though I never spent one day as his student, he never stopped being my mentor, because  he never stopped being like a guardian angel, ready with a word of encouragement whether needed or not.

As special as this man was, the greatest moment I spent in his presence, was not in private, but where he belonged. IU was doing a production of Fidler on the Roof and somehow coaxed him out of retirement to sing the role of Tevye. The popularity of the show pretty much guaranteed sold out performances and when it came to it, I could not get a ticket, so the only way I could see the show was as an usher. Sitting on the stairs of orchestra section, I experienced the art of Giorgio Tozzi, the man in his element and the element within this man. I still had tears in my eyes when I went to greet him in the green room after the performance. Now that will be my favorite memory of him, as Tevye, as he extends his hand to the fiddler at the end of the show and slowly walks off followed by him.

Now the Maestro is dead. Not only has opera lost one of its luminaries, we have lost a friend, a mentor, a guardian angel, a smile, a joke, a hug; shit, we’ve lost maestro. Our lives are a little less sunny and our singing a bit sadder; we have lost Maestro.

Luckily for us, Giorgio Tozzi and his legacy live beyond his recording or South Pacific. Thankfully, RCA had his artistry at their disposition and they used him in several sets where his aristocratic sound gave life to more than one father, soldier, king or confidante. Those recordings are easily accessible and downloading them at iTunes or Amazon is a piece of cake.

What is not a piece of cake to find are some of the recordings he made for MORC, including his Boris and his extended highlights of Nozze di Figaro. Thanks to the tenacity and love of collector extraordinaire Mike Richter, those were preserved in his CD-Rom dedicated to the MORC and for those who would like to experience Tozzi in his absolute prime, here he is first as Boris and then as Figaro. Thanks to Mike as well, we can experience Tozzi as Figaro’s nemesis in a performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia from Teatro Colon in 1969.

I think it would be all to easy to past here several of his performances available on YouTube, but instead of that, I am going to use someone else’s voice and music. I am going to let Leonora in La Forza del destino be the one to send you off, dear Maestro, as you start your journey to eternity:

La vergine degli angeli ti copra del suo manto
E te protegga vigile Di dio l’angelo santo

May the Queen Angels cover you with her mantle,
and vigilantly protect you the holy angel of God.

Thank you Maestro Tozzi. We love you and we will miss you.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | In memoriam | 2 Comments

Addio Maestro Paul Kiesgen

This is going to be hard…And the tears start to flow.

You are going to have to forgive me, but I am writing through tears. My voice teacher has died.

If you are not a singer, let me just say that you form a bond with your voice teacher that is very special. It is almost a paternal bond and a teacher is as protective of his teachers as a hen of her chicks. That is because that is exactly what we are, we are their chicks and no matter whether just a chorister or a world famous singer we will always be our teacher’s chicks.

I met Paul Kiesgen in 1998, when I was in need of a new voice teacher. My relationship with my former teacher had ended badly, I felt my voice was a wreck and I needed a new start.

That is when this wonderful man came into my life. He took me under his wings and started working with me with a lot of patience and a  good doze of love. During the 2 years that I studied with him I regained my confidence and the ease of my high notes.

What kills me is that he never knew. I never told him how important his help was in my vocal recovery. I owed him everything and I never told him. In my own self-centerdness, in my own selfishness I never took the time to tell him how important he had and was to me.

So you are going to have to forgive me because there is something I need to say, even if he will never be able to read this:


Thank you. Your help, your patience, your advise, your gentleness made a huge difference in my life and I owe you an eternal debt. Thank you, I could not be who I am now had you not taken an interest. Whether I am a success or a failure it is not a reflection on you but a result of my own decisions; the fact still remains that you were like a father figure when I needed one and I will remember that until the day I die.

Thank you maestro. Thank you for your guidance, for accepting me as difficult and opinionated as I was, and as full of myself as someone in their 20’s could be.

Rest in peace Maestro.


April 7, 2011 Posted by | In memoriam | 1 Comment

Adieu Cuenod

It is with great sadness that today we bid farewell to the greatest tenor nobody knew in my generation. For many the name Hugues Cuenod is but a footnote. A short search on Google would tell you that he is the tenor who sang Emperor Altotum in the met’s DVD of Turandor that preserves Eva Marton , Placido Domingo, Leona Mitchell and Paul Plishka’s assumptions of Turandot, Calaf, Liu and Timur respectively.

If that is all you know about this artist, there is still so much more that needs to be known…

Hugues Cuenod was born  in Switzerland on June 16th 1902. That would make him 108 at the time of his death and not content with living to that ripe old age, he was an artist who never stop growing performing. Not long ago I was reading about some guy who at 98 was declaring himself the oldest tenor still performing. Cuenod could have easily challenged the gentleman’s assertion. His last public appearance was as Triquet in  Onegin at 92 and I would not be surprised if he did a private performance here and there pass that and well into his 100’s. So solid was his technique that he could perform at that age with a solid command of style and voice.

Among maestro Cuenod’s many accomplishments, he was the oldest tenor to debut at the Metropolitan Opera when at over 80 he was cast in that fateful Turandot. He was also a stalwart at Glyndebourne, where he sang starting in 1954 and appears in several of his recordings. After hearing several of his landmark recordings of early music Stravinsky asked him to sing a role in his new opera  that would debut at La Fenice. This opera was of course Rake’s Progress and the role was that of Selem the auctioneer. A recording of one of the performances testifies to the splendid vocalism that characterized Cuenod through his career.

Cuenod sand everything from Back, Elizabethan songs and Stranvinsky. He was said to be a fantastic sight reader and a musician of the first order.  His simplicity of delivery, sweet voice and unaffected singing was a model for the Early Music revival that was in its early stages in the 50’s; so if you are an early music specialist, you owe Maestro Cuenod a debt of gratitude.His recordings of Elizabethan songs and of French melodies should still be required listening not only to those who aspire to sing early music, but to those who dream of success in the concert stage as well.

Hugues Cuenod did not rest with being some old guy who sang in the 50’s and left some recordings;  he a trailblazer throughout his life. Not only did he participate and help opening the doors in the early music movement, in his old age he became a gay icon as well, when at the age of 104 he married his long time partner in a civil ceremony when the laws in Switzerland gave gay couples a measure of equality.

For all of these reasons and for many more that escape any attempt to memorialize this amazing artist he will be remembered. Maestro Cuenod will live in the hearts and minds of those who love singing from the heart.

Rather than ending it there, let’s hope that some examples will lead some of my readers to explore more of this amazing artist. For starters, an search reveals 4 pages of recordings of this artist; one of them the famous Glyndebourne Figaro where he sings Basilio partnered by none other than Sesto Bruscantini, Sena Jurinac, Rise Stevens and Graziella Sciutti.

What better way to pay homage to a great artist than to play his recordings and make sure that they are heard by the new generation? let’s do just that.

First, from my own personal collection here are a couple of items. First selections from a recording of Debussy songs he made at age 70. From the Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire we will hear Le Balcon, Recueilllement and then the ever popular Nuits D’etoiles.

(Titles link to translations of the text. To follow the score click here for Nuit D’etoiles and here for Baudelaire)

Next we will get several other selections from other recordings starting with Anna Magdalena Bach’s Bist du bei mir (Translation / Score) with Albert Fuller in the harpsichord  and John Dowland’s Come again, sweet love (Text / Score) with Joel Cohen in the lute:

And just in case you are thinking that Maestro Cuenod was only good for the early stuff, here he is in some Lied from the height of the romantic period with Schubetr’s Der Wanderer an den Mond (Translation / Score) and Schuman’s Du bist wie eine Blume (Translation / Score page 46).

And last, one of my favorite songs, Gabriel Faure’s Automne… (Translation / Score page 10)

YouTube, the great equalizer it is, also proves fertile ground for anyone who wants to explore Hugues Cuenod’s artistry. Here are some examples that I hope will wet your appetite:

First his recording of Cypriano de Rore’s “Vergine Pura.”

And here we havehim in a scene from Wozzek, sung in Italian with Tito Gobbi in the title role:

And here is in a magnificent recording of Jour et Nuit from Offenbach’s Les contes de Hoffmann

For those who can not get enough, here is a small file that we owe to the generosity of legendary collector Mike Richter with several LPs of Hugues Cuenod singing through the years. In the file you will get the following LP’s, most with texts included:

  • Italian Songs of the 16th and 17th Centuries – Hermann Leeb (lute)
  • Spanish Songs of the 16th Century – Hermann Leeb (lute)
  • Songs from Shakespeare Plays – Albert Fuller (hps)
  • Bach: Anna Magdalena Buch – Albert Fuller (hps)
  • Songs from La Fontaine – Albert Fuller (hps)
  • Fauré: Cinq Melodies de Venise
  • Faure: Le bonne chanson

What else is there to say but Merci, merci beaucoup Maestro Cuenod…

December 7, 2010 Posted by | In memoriam | 2 Comments

A Farewell to Shirley Verrett

The world of opera, the fans and the pros find ourselves grieving yet again. A merely 4 weeks after we learned of Joan Sutherland’s passing we now find ourselves having to eulogize Shirley Verrett.

Shirley Verrett was one of those enigmatic singers whose voice defied labels, and because of that, she earned the one that I would think pleased her the most: not Diva, or Goddess, but simply SINGER. Sometimes, the easiest labels are the hardest to earn…

Shirley Verrett was born in New Orleans and by the age of 33 she had already conquered stages on both sides of the Atlantic, a feat that she would continue doing for the nest 3 decades in an ever expanding list of roles that just like her, defied expectations and surprised everyone.Triumph she did, and on she went trailing her own path and taking no prisoners in her way.

Shirley Verrett had a voice of unique quality, and that voice allowed her to to triumph is roles that seemed polar opposites. After starting singing roles more associated with the mezzo-soprano and contralto voice, she gradually took on roles that kept getting higher and higher; until there was no mistaking it, Sopranos beware, there was a new player in town. The rules were not the same for a long time, to the enjoyment of the audience and the despair of sopranos the world over.

This switch still inflames passions on both sides of the opera divide, mainly because we like our singers, specially our female ones to fit neatly into the niches that we believe there are: Soprano, Mezzo & Contralto.  Eventually Verrett sang all of them, in some she was just magnificent and in some, well, she ruled.

Long ago, I came to realize that the French had it easier and better when they apply a very esoteric label to singers of the Verrettt mold: Falcon. The label, born out of the career of Marie Cornélie Falcon is applied in France to female singers who ride the divide of the Soprano-mezzo line. Their voices sit right in between, with a definite soprano coloration, but sometimes the extreme high notes are not there, or not for long.

So, just like the French, I made peace with the fact that Verret’s voice defied labels and I applied one myself. After all, if the French use it, why not me? For me, Verret was not merely a mezzo or a soprano, she was a Falcon; and like a falcon she soared to heights mezzos could only dream of; and she visited depths many sopranos would give a right arm to visit. In all of that, she walked, jumped and danced on a tight rope with no safety netting and no balancing stick. Proving that she had the spirit and the balls to do it, always with a smile on her face. If we needed proof, well, how about the high D she nailed at the end of Act I of Norma in Boston.

Verrett, unlike many sopranos who claim to be able to but ultimately fail, was able to sing just about everything. She sang a very sexy Carmen, a hair rising Azucena (“The best I saw” was how my friend Ronizetti described her), a dignified Leonora in La favorita and Fidelio. In time she was an equally successful Tosca, a touching Desdemona, Alceste, Cassandra and Didon (the last 2 sung on the same night at the Met). But it was both her a sinister Lady Macbeth, and the scorned Eboli the roles that will forever define her. In these 2 roles, so seemingly different that she showed what a solid belcantista she was.

As the years passed by she continued to defy preconceived notions and as if thinking she had something to prove she continued to alternate polar opposite roles, like Amneris and Aida; and to  tackle ones that people would not associate with her voice or temperament, but even in those she proved them wrong; like when she sand Desdemona, a role not associated with women of a certain “temperament” but she sang it just as beautifully as anyone else.

Her solid technique allowed her to sing roles from Gluck, through Rossini, to Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, she even tackled Broadway, in a production of Carousel! In concert, we even got to sample several might-have-beens when she tackled Dich teure Halle and the Liebestod, making us wish she had sung at least Venus and Isolde; one because she could and the other because she WAS such a beautiful woman, how could a tenor wish to leave her presence?

The wonderful thing about Shirley Verret is hat she was active when artists were still receiving recordings contracts and when fan were willing to risk anything to capture artists in performances; and houses willing to turn a blind eye without calling the copyright police. Thanks to that we have a treasure trove of both commercial and live recordings in which to bask in her artistry and her generosity as a performer.

Any savvy internet surfer should not have problems finding performances both to download and to purchase with this irreplaceable artist. Like a 1991 Trovatore with her as Azucena and Kabaivanska as Leonora.  Or a 1972 Verdi Requiem with her singing the mezzo part and Martina Arroyo singing the soprano part. Or a 1984 Don Carlo that has her Eboli competing for the love of the Carlos of Giulianno Cianella against the Elizabetta of Montserrat Caballe. (Hear ye, hear ye! Like Turandot’s riddles, this one 3 parts it also has; and just like Turandot’s, you will not win if you do not answer all 3). Even the generous people at Opera Depot are offering a free download of her as Lady Macbeth

As her career drew to a close and the accolades and farewells rained on, she turned her thoughts on those early years and how hard it was for her back then. A flame to pass on the knowledge grew into a full fledged and all consuming fire.  In 1995, at the National Opera Association Gala Banquet and Concert honoring Mattiwilda Dobbs and Camilla Williams among others, Verrett had said: “I’m always happy when I can speak to young people because I remember those who were kind to me that didn’t need to be. The first reason I came tonight was for the honorees because I needed to say this. The second reason I came was for you, the youth. These great people here were the trailblazers for me. I hope in my own way I did something to help your generation… ” This passion materialized in 1996 when she joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music as a Professor of Voice.

I will leave the last words to a dear friend, we’ll call her IndyMary out of respect to her privacy. IndyMary was one of those people who drank from Shirley Verrett’s fountain of knowledge  and she learned the news shortly before I send her a quick email. I asked IndyMary if she would like to write some words about Verrett to help me eulogize her and in the middle of the hustle and bustle that her days are, she left it all on the paper and I want to share it with you, dear readers and with her, even if in spirit. Take it over IndyMary:

She was so generous to her students, often to the extent that she would show up to staging and music rehearsals for the opera so she could give you notes. Incredible. She was so focused on the health of singers and great technique and was so committed to learning how to communicate that in her teaching. I loved her energy and valued her advice as a seasoned performer and communicator.

She started teaching in the fall of 1996 and I started at Michigan that Fall as one of her first students. I treasure the time I had with her and the gems of instruction and advice I keep with me and use today. A Diva of supreme talent, committed teacher, warm-hearted, spit-fire of a woman whom I will miss.

We should be so lucky to be remembered this way. And so with that, there is only one thing that is left to say:

Thank you Shirley Verret. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | In memoriam | 3 Comments

Joan Sutherland: Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali


Portrait by June Mendoza


On Mondays I wake up late, really late. What does that have to do with Joan Sutherland? The fact that about a minute after I get out of bed I hear my best friend’s ring tone; his greeting? You couldn’t have called me? When I asked him what the hell was he talking about, that I had just woken up and was confused he dropped  the bomb on me:

Joan Sutherland Died!

I know talking about Sutherland is an exercise in futility. Gallons of ink have been spilled just on superlatives, many more gallons have been spilled telling her story: The poor secretary who wanted to be a singer. She thought he was going to be a Wagnerian singer but her husband knew better. Then one night she is given Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden and the world was never the same. The same amount of ink has been spilled in criticizing her: the droopy diction, the extreme dependence on her husband, to the point of demanding him to conduct all her performances, the demands for expensive productions of operas that nobody cared about, the championing of 2nd rate singers just so she would be always the star, the alleged xenophobia and racism, the strained relationship with Australian Opera and many more. No doubt, Joan Sutherland provoked reactions anywhere she went.

But the voice, oh the voice…. That torrent of gold that emanated from her throat graced the music from composers as varied as Haydn (Euridice in the first modern performances of his Orfeo {wich of course she wasn’t, that would be Callas in 1951 and thanks to parterre reader Cocky Kurwenal for setting me straight on that one. I am such a dumbass sometimes}) to Mozart ( the first soprano with a British passport to sing Contessa Almaviva and Glyndebourne and her Donna Anna for Giulini remains a classic), Wagner (Brangane, Rheinmaiden and the Forrest Bird in Solti’s Ring) and Britten (Lady Penelope in Gloriana).  But it was her close association with bel canto that gained her the name of La Stupenda and will forever influence singers of future generations. Her handling of some of the most difficult passage work like she was doing simple math continues to astonish.

But now all that is gone. With Joan Sutherland’s death, the circle of greats that are associated to a golden age long ago passed continues to shrink. Her death, and the countless of public and private memorials it will provoke, will remind us how truly starved we are for singers like her. In this age of generic performances, we needed her the most and now she is gone.

For those of you who have never heard of her (the 3 of you in the whole world) Opera Depot has made available her breakthrough performance of Lucia free of charge. Just enter your email address and you will be taken to the download page. This is a limited offering, so get it while it is still available.  Elsewhere in the web there is plenty of available stuff so you can sample her art; Like a 1966 Atlanta recital or a recital of Bellini, Verdi and Donizetti works or a 1979 concert she sang with Pavarotti (2 parts!) .

Even YouTube is fertile ground for those who wish to either get to know her or just do their own private memorial.



What else is left to say but Thank you? Thank you Joan for all those wonderful nights you gave us. Thank you for all those wonderful recordings you gave us.

Just thank you…

October 11, 2010 Posted by | In memoriam | 1 Comment

Farewell Giulietta

Today we have learned of the passing of the great Italian mezzo Giulietta Simionato at the age of 99. What can be said about this lady that has not been said before? Are there enough compliments and enough words to describe her importance and  significance to the art  form? Is there enough paper to enumerate her performances,  rehash her successes and reprint her reviews?

Suffice it to say that she has ensured a place among the honored on her own terms and not exclusively by the company she kept. Suffice it to say that she will be remembered for a long time and her recordings and performances still listened to and scrutinized long before those reading this have gone to pay their respects in the big Green Room in the sky.

If you are unfamiliar with the art of Simionato, there is plenty to see and hear on youtube. I will just give you a sample of her versatility: Cherubino and Amneris. How many mezzos can you name in the past 20 years who have successfuly navigated both roles? If you want to read more, click on her picture to be taken to her Wikipedia page.

Maestra, thank you for the music, the performances and for the support you gave to those who came after you. Rest in peace, your memory will live forever…

May 5, 2010 Posted by | In memoriam | Leave a comment

Addio Rafita, addio…

Several days ago I received news that the father of a distant cousin of mine died peacefully. What does that have to do with opera? Well, the fact that he and his wife Mezzo soprano Flavia Acosta were the first people in my family to make a living in the art form.

I never met Rafita, as he was known,  but every time it was mentioned in my family circles that I wanted to become an opera singer, his name was mentioned. Here I was, thinking I was trailblazing in my family by choosing a career that was out of the ordinary and well, I was not. His wife sang in several companies in the Midwest and Europe alongside luminaries like Grace Bumbry, Nicolai Ghiarov, Evelyn Lehar, Teresa Berganza, Oralia Dominguez, Carlo Cosutta, Walter Cassel and several others until she retired to live a quiet life until her death.

Rafita loved opera; he breathed it and lived for it; to the point of naming one of his daughters after one of the most beautiful and famous women in the ancient world, who was immortalized in an opera. Not only did he loved opera but he was a public servant as well. He worked for  Puerto Rico’s first elected governor, Luis Muñoz Marin.  Had we met, I have a feeling we would have had many a conversation (and arguments) over our favorites singers, composers, operas and conductors. Those might have beens will weight heavy in my heart; those conversations and arguments that are never to be will forever be my loss…

So, without any intention of sounding melodramatic I want to pay tribute to this man who I never met, but who certainly influenced my life.  Rafita, thank you for your influence, for giving me the gene of loving opera. Without knowing it, you gave me one of the most precious gifts I have ever received and for that I will be eternally grateful. Now it is my turn to pass the gene to the next generation and continue your legacy.

Rest in peace, and tell my gramps that I miss him a lot.

Lastly, I want to rise my voice in his memory. From a performance from long ago,  one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written and one that I hope he will find fitting as a final tribute:

Adagiati, Poppea, acquietati, anima mia:                    Lie down now, Poppea, hush, my darling
Sarai ben custodita                                                      You will be well guarded
Oblivion soave,                                                           To the sweet oblivion of sleep
I dolci sentimenti                                                        let fly your tender thoughts
in te, figlia, adddormenti.
Posatevi, occhi ladri;                                                   Rest, thieving eyes;
aperti, deh, che fate,                                                   why open at all
se chiusi ancor rubate?                                                when closed you are still beguilding
Poppea, rimanti in pace;                                              Poppea rest peacefully;
luci care e gradite, dear,                                               lovely eyes,
dormite, omai dormite.                                               sleep now, sleep…

And another one with tenor Ramon Vargas:

Sotto la gronda de la torre antica                              Under the leaves of the old tower,
Una rondine amica,                                                         as the almond tree blossoms,
Allo sbocciar del mandorlo è tornata.                      a friendly swallow has returned.
Ritorna tutti gli anni,                                                       Every year she returns,
Sempre alla stessa data,                                                               always in the same day.
Monti e mare essa varca per tornar.                       Crossing mountains and sea to get back here.
Solo amore                                                                         Only love flees
Quando fugge e va lontano                                         and does not return
Speri invano                                                                       It makes you hope in vain,
ma non torna più,                                                            but it does not return.
Speri invano                                                                       It makes you hope in vain,
Ma non torna più.                                                            but it does not return.
Ne la penombra dolce della sera                                               In the soft twilight of evening
Passa la primavera.                                                         Sprintime passes by
Cinguettano le rondini nel volo,                                 The swallows chatter in their flight
Ebbre di luce e d’aria.                                                     they are drunk with light and air
Ed io son triste e solo;                                                    But I am sad and lonely
Monti e mare tu non varchi                                         You do not cross mountains and sea
per tornar.                                                                         to come back to me
Mia piccina,                                                                        My little one,
Fosti tutta la mia vita;                                                     You were my whole life
Sei fuggita                                                                           You are gone
E non torni più.                                                                 To never return
Sei fuggita                                                                           You are gone
E non torni più.                                                                 Never to return

April 30, 2010 Posted by | In memoriam | 2 Comments

A Farewell to Mary Curtis-Verna

While the name Mary Curtis-Verna will immediately bring memories to hardcore collectors and those who still long for The Golden Age, her name might not mean a lot to younger opera goers. Hopefully this corrects some of that…

Born in Salem, Massachusetts on May 9, 1921, she studied at Hollis College in Virginia, and in Italy with Ettore Verna, whom she latter married. She made her stage debut in Milan (at the Teatro Lirico), as Desdemona, in 1949. She sang in theaters throughout Italy, and made guest appearances in Vienna,  Munich and other important venues through Europe in repertoire as varied as Norma, the Marschallin, Senta, Eva and Elsa, all in Italian. Her American debut took place in Philadelphia, in 1952, and the same year at the San Francisco Opera, as Aida. She debuted at the New York City Opera, as Donna Anna, in 1954, and at the Metropolitan Opera,as Leonora in Il trovatore, in 1957.

At the Metropolitan Opera, the presence of famous divas like Tebaldi, Milanov, and Lentyne Price; all famous for singing the roles she sang, relegated Mary Curtis-Verna to the rank of cover and utility singer.  Given the  attention she was already enjoying in Italy, this must have been a hard pill to swallow; but her husband’s failing health did not afford her the luxury of spending entire seasons away from home, so stability won over super stardom.  Opera lovers of a certain age still talk about how they used to complain when they got Mary Curtis-Verna instead of Madame Super Diva X.  Those same people insist that a singer of her talents would have been more celebrated and appreciated today, given the scarcity of singers naturally endowed to sing her repertoire and, furthermore,  those who can sing it with command of the style and distinction.

As the Marschallin in Genoa, with Margaret Maz as Octavian

As a house soprano and cover artist, her resume at the Met is a mishmash of roles that would make a soprano’s head spin: Mimi, Violetta, Amelia (both the Ballo and Boccanegra), Alice Ford, Santuzza, Adriana Lecouvreur (a single performance), Gutrune, Aida, Turandot, Elisabeth di Valois, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Leonora (both of them), Maddalena di Coigni, and both Donna Anna & Donna Elvira (sung to Leontyne Price’s Anna). Now, don’t for one moment think that this artist went unapreciated by the Met management. For what I could gather she was given at least one new production (Boccanegra) , 3 broadcasts (Aida, Don Carlo, Gotterdammerung) , and 2 recordings that I discuss latter. She was also a staple of their yearly tour through the country. Surely the management saw the benefit of having such an artist ready to jump in at a moment’s notice in the house and gave her the opportunity to perform the roles while on tour.

Curtis-Verna sang at the Met for nearly 10 years. It encompassed 10 seasons, 96 performances and the 19 roles listed above.  Her career with the company ended the day they said farewell to the old theater. After her retirement in 1969, she chaired the voice department in the University of Washington for 20 years.

Her recording output is shamelessly small and hard to find. Arkiv Music lists 3 complete operas; lists none Amazon lists the most. Seems that she made a solo recording and it appears to be available.  Collectors who want to buy her recordings need to go off the beaten path.   Earlier in her career, she did a series of broadcasts for RAI (Don Giovanni,  Ballo in maschera & Aida)  that made their way to the Cetra  Catalogue. These recordings were available for a while in the USA, and are still available through but at a steep price. The Don Giovanni was sung opposite Giuseppe Taddei, Italo Tajo & Cesare Valletti. The Ballo in maschera, opposite Ferruccio Tagliavini & Giuseppe Valdengo;  the  Aida was sung opposite Franco Corelli, Miriam Pirazzini & Giangiacomo Guelfi. Not bad company for a girl from Salem, MA.

The fact that at the Met she was seen as more of a house soprano (and maybe because of it) did not prevent them from using her for their own recordings. In addition to the recordings listed above (and the several live recordings that you can probably find) she is heard in 2 recordings made under the auspices of the Metropolitan Opera Record Collector Club (MORC). These were recordings (some of them abridged beyond recognition) made in the late 1950’s, and offered to club members at reasonable prices. Many of the singers used in the recordings, like Curtis-Verna, were seldom recorded commercially.

For the MORC, Curtis-Verna recorded Andrea Chenier with Tucker (his only recording of the role), and Il Trovatore with Kurt Baum and Rosalid Elias.  These recordings remain unreleased and are prized by collectors everywhere. Several years ago, a collector by the name Mike Richter took it upon himself to digitize all the MORC recordings from LPs and  out of his own pocket published the whole collection on CD-Rom. Thanks to his labor of love, you now have an opportunity to download the complete MORC  Chenier and Trovatore. The links are below the musical examples below.

If you are unfamiliar with Mary Curtis-Verna and want to wet your appetite, here is a full serving:

1962 Manon Lescaut Philadelphia Lyric Opera with impresario Ray Fabiani & Julius Rudel

From Don Giovanni: Or sai chi l’onore and Non Mi dir

From Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida & the Act IV scene starting with D’amor sull’ali rose

From Un ballo in maschera: Ecco lorrido campo

From Andrea Chenier La mamma morta

If you want to download the complete MORC Chenier click here: Andrea Chenier

If you want to download the complete MORC Trovatore click here: Il Trovatore

As we bid farewell to this wonderful artist, let’s leave the last words to Curtis-Verna herself in 2 very different times during her career:

As a young singer in 1953 she told Opera News:  Perhaps if one were to list the requirements of a career, ‘patience’ would follow directly after ‘talent’ and ‘preparation.’

In 2005, in an article for the same magazine, she told Richard Dyer about the advise she always gave her students: I tell my students how hard it is to have a career. Your voice is in your body, and it is affected by your health and by your emotions, but the public must never know that. You need to learn how to have strong shoulders. You cannot take anything personally. You need to have a flame in you that nothing can extinguish.

Well, nobody will extinguish that flame now…

December 6, 2009 Posted by | In memoriam | , | 23 Comments

Casta Diva, Inmortal Diva

Today is Dec 4th and it is the day Maria Callas celebrated her birthday. So here at Can Belto I am celebrating.

I first heard Callas’ voice at the home of my voice teacher. Her husband played Divinite du Styx from Alceste and my first thought was THAT is Callas? Thank God I was not turnes off enough to come to love her. After the initial reaction I have endured a 20 year love affair with her voice and her artistry. I love many singers, but Callas is special to me for many reasons.

So I’ll spare you the details and the mushy reminiscences and the details repeated ad nausea. I’ll only say this:

Brava, Brava Maria Callas!

Thank you Maria for your art, your gift…

December 4, 2009 Posted by | In memoriam | | Leave a comment