Cher Public

“He was sort of the Brando of music”

Image from Albert Innaurato’s fantastical blog “Mrs. John Claggart’s Sad Life”

I wept when I heard the news. Albert… I had such affection for him, his generosity of spirit in sharing all that he knew about practically everything in the world, was rarely matched by anyone I have ever known, ever. 

But music! Music! He knew about it pretty much more than anyone I have ever read or known. He loved it, lived it, understood it, and made others understand it. It wasn’t just his great, genius, and deep musical sense you understood that he had, but his psychological grasp of the meanings, intents and purposes of even the most obscure compositions I don’t think many could equal within hailing distance of the level he did. His insights were beyond and above – again – than practically anyone I have ever known.

I first got acquainted with him through an opera discussion group, and I read all of his contributions, enthralled, thrilled, and captivated. Often, what he wrote put me into this odd state of being deep in thought: he made you think on whatever he had written. Always there were revelations, providing me with new, and lasting impressions on many things I had never considered before. Brilliant, brilliant man, and that word hardly suffices.

I began exchanging e mails with him. Mostly, to praise him. Some questions, which he always answered, wonderfully detailed. Always so kind to me, grateful I took the time to write to him. Offered me some advice from time to time; he understood too, the human condition.

All too well!

Albert was a tormented soul, one of those supreme geniuses who grasped everything perhaps too well, and found life difficult. He knew too well the pain of it. But it gave him that beautiful depth of knowledge. Yet I longed for him to have peace.

His public skirmishes and feuds were well-known. He was often difficult, and could be hurtful and insulting. But you see, a lot of the geniuses throughout the ages had a difficult time in life, and were dissonant figures in society as a whole. They had dimensions and complexities unknown to the average person. Different ways of seeing things, different ways of thinking. Complacency, sweeping pronouncements and mediocrity of thought enraged him; and he was easily hurt. No one felt more deeply than he did. No one cared about things that were beautiful, and sacred – art – than he did.

He created at times a great deal of enmity and downright hostility in online discussions. I never once joined in on these feuds. I cringed at what transpired, but I did not get involved.  I regarded Albert as one of those kind of people you felt privileged to be privy to the kind of mind and insights he had. What he had to say was so much more valuable than the behaviors he exhibited from time to time. That is how it is with geniuses like him; something so exalting and out of this world he had in him, you didn’t want to miss anything he offered. Others chose to see the ugly, that’s their prerogative; I only saw the beauty of Albert.

He was sort of the Brando of music.

Other thoughts of him: the wickedest, most wonderfully salacious wit. The most colorful invective. Incapable of a dull, commonplace statement or thought. Disallowing of generalizations, fanatical hagiography, and the “common,” accepted, universal overviews; and when he explained why he dissented, he was often right. Eerie, bulls-eye observations on anything. Despite his cynicism and wariness, he could, I sensed, weep at things that were truly pure at heart, because in the center of his being, I think that is really what he had. No one who could love music as much as he did could be without purity of heart.

Rest in peace, dear Albert. Thank you for all that I learned from you, your kindnesses to me, and for allowing me to know you, and most of all, for influencing me in so many profound ways.

  • Donna Annina

    Neil, what a heartfelt loving tribute to this tormented brilliant soul. I didn’t think of him as the ultimate opera queen; he was the empress, or whatever ranks higher than that. I do hope there’s a way of collecting and ultimately publishing his posts, writings, screeds, all of it. That would be a fitting a lasting memorial.

  • Christian Ocier

    My heart pains for this loss. Albert was indeed a wellspring of musical and dramatic knowledge, and his witty delivery only enhanced these observations collected over a rich life of experiencing art. Rest in peace, Mrs. John Claggart. I will always remember our conversations, and your Ruth Hesse/janitor, Diane Curry, and Phyllis Curtin stories.

    Thank you Neil for this remarkable tribute

    • Camille

      My favorite story was the one starring Mary Ann Kalogeropoulos of Astoria, Queens, and Eileen Farrell of Staten Island as young struggling singer/roomates in Manhattan.

      That one was a howler and I’ve just now idea where it is--at least five years back anyway.

      • Nelly della Vittoria

        Do you mean the terrifying thing in the comments below this article, Camille? (‘sort by oldest’ and it’ll come up)

        http://parterre.com/2010/01/16/photoshop-girl/

        • Camille

          YES, Nell!
          Thanks a bunch. Just edit out all the f—s and you have a cheerful tale of young striving prima donnas, as fancifully imagined by mjc.
          It was seven years ago! a long time ago now….

  • Neil, you’ve summed things up so well. Thank you.

    Sticking to the positive, I often felt that the brilliance of his insight into opera, music, and performance was unparalleled. There were many times that I would read a passage of his that simply astonished me — both through its remarkable insight and the power of its communication.

    He has left an unfillable void.

    • I will say, Niel, that I can’t agree with the dichotomy you’ve presented. I certainly found it quite possible to be in awe of
      Albert’s brilliance and insight while also being repulsed by his worst outbursts and personal attacks on people. I think lots of other people did as well. It wasn’t an either/or situation.

      • rapt

        This seems to me an important point to make, kashania, and you’ve made it succinctly. It is possible to sympathize with the victims of bullying and yet to admire the gifts (and acknowledge the suffering) of someone who himself resorted to bullying on occasion--and to do both without necessarily positing a link between abusive behavior and remarkable insight.

  • Luvtennis

    Am I the only person who keeps waiting for Mrs. JC to weigh in crushingly???? Sigh…. mai piu.

  • Camille

    Mr Rishoi—

    Great thanks for what you have expressed herein and on behalf of many of us out here in the dark.

    This an example of the type of writing from opera-l to which I’d like to see be preserved—as this is, to my way of thinking, an absolutely sterling and invaluable piece of information on what real singing is constituted from and should be read by all who sing, teach, or advise or conduct singers.

    http://listserv.bccls.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind1707D&L=OPERA-L&T=0&F=&S=&P=50394

    Whether or not Mr Innaurato was a Brandoesque type of figure…I would not know, but I do know this, which he told me only a little more than a year ago: once, years before in his heyday, he had his palm read by Mstislav Rostropovich, who told him two things—that he was a genius, and as such, he was not ever going to have a happy life. I wonder about the impact of this statement upon such a sensitive soul, for he took it as gospel and believed in Misha’s powers of prediction. As well, and I would not like to belabor this, he told me some terrible tales from his youth which were pitiable and would explain some of his later behavior

    • Thanks very much for the link, Camille.

      • Camille

        Il n’ a pas de cela, mon cher Monsieur NPW, for it’s ESSENTIAL! And should be required reading for everyone. Thank you for having the good volition of reading it.

        Hoping your busy season will be gratifying and will look forward to your reporting. À bientôt!

        • A bientôt, indeed. IIRC my next evening of opera will be Don C. at the Bastille. I wonder if they’ll all show up…

          https://www.operadeparis.fr/saison-17-18/opera/don-carlos

          • Camille

            thanks for the heads up on this one as I am awaiting news of Garanca’s Eboli. She has almost everything, I THINK, to make a superb creation of this difficult role.

            For the rest, Tézier should probably be ideal as things may be these days. and even if I am guesstimating, as I don’t know his live sound but who knows what Der Jonas will do? At least he is practiced in this role. The other guy Cernoch, isn’t he the tenor from the Herheim Rusalka? He can’t be interesting at the very least.

            Ildar sounds like a miss to me, as I only like him in comedy. At least he’s tall which = kingly. Yoncheva should be just about the right voice, more or less, but I do not really know her yet, nor understand her rationale behind choice in roles. All in all, potentially a very good to thrilling account of this wonderful and messiest of enchiladas/operas. Depends upon the staging, as well, and which music they choose to insert. Since it IS Paris, it would be so wonderful if they would include the ballet, even if it goes on, as there is the wonderful troupe there. Yes, dream on. They’d rather have those boring woodcutters in the prologue.

            I’ll be awaiting your screed!

            • Bill

              Camille -- the Vienna Opera is to present
              a new Les Troyens next season (2018-19) though no casting/conductor is mentioned as of yet. Let us hope Garanca has been booked.

            • Camille

              Let us hope she doesn’t get pregnant again! Or was that Olga’s pregnancy that made her miss the Troyens here.

              Garanca’s high mezzo capabilities plus her sterling ability to articulate and negotiate fioriture, her tall and elegant cool mien, these all add up to an exceptional Eboli, one for which we’re also looking, as there is always SOMEthing wrong! Either they can sing the first part, or the last part, or they look dumpy or just SOMEthing!

              What have you on the lookout, Bill? Not a lot of Wagner or Strausa right away.

            • Bill

              Garanca has outlined some of the roles she
              wants to sing and anything Wagnerian or Straussian is way in the future. She does have Amneris planned and said earlier this year her first would be in a couple of seasons in a Central European opera house -- so maybe Munich or Vienna and in either could it possibly be with Netrebko as Aida ? -- that could be exciting.

            • Camille

              By Wagner and Strauss I meant Met performances coming up, not Garanca. I hope she stays far away from them, (except the Komponist, which she dosn’t want to do in any case.)

              Her voice does so well in Donizetti, too, I’d rather she kept it on the lighter end to keep the flexibility. Amneris seems like a real push for her. Leave it to Semenchuk who does it magnificently.

            • Bill

              Then to answer your question about upcoming Wagner and Strauss at the Met,
              I am not privy but do not see any Arabellas.
              Ariadnes, Capriccios or Frau ohne Schattens in the future (nor Daphne for that matter.)

              Stemme is doing a new Frau in Vienna
              May and June 2019 with some additional performances during October 2019 Thielemann conducting with Kaufmann as Kaiser (at least May/June 2019 -- no idea about the October 2019 reprise

              As to Wagner at the Met -- lamentably
              have not heard of any plans for Lohengrin, Tannhaeuser or Meistersinger upcoming in future years. But who knows.

            • Camille

              Bill--there will be the Elektra in the spring and the Parsifal, too, so that’s not chopped liver.

              I still cannot forget that Daphne and am SO pleased that sweet girl Ms Hangler is now doing well in Wien and elsewhere. That was a happy night at the opera for me. Well, two nights!

              Tschuß!

            • Bill

              Camille -- Well yes but only one Strauss and only one Wagner -- there was a time for a number of seasons a few decades ago when the Met had an all German subscription with 7 different operas and it was a Tuesday Night. I took that subscription until it’s demise -- occasionally they would add a non-German opera such Boris if there were not sufficient German Operas scheduled in the season but usually they had 7. now we are lucky if we have 3 or 4 which would include Zauberfloete or Hansel und Gretel.

            • Camille

              Well there are at least two types of Flöten!!

              Oh, I’d not known about that Tuesday night subscription--wondering now what happened.

              We will have that second act of Tristan and a Rosenkavalier with--is it Petrenko and Pieczonka at Carnegie Hall? And the Ring Machine shall return next year, so———--best to keep those AirMiles at the ready, I suspect.

            • Camille

              Out of curiosity I looked it up and two years on there will be a new Holländer by François Girard and that new Wozzeck by Kentridge. Very sorry there is no Lohengrin on the horizon — as I would love to hear it again at least once.

              And we did have Botha in those last two in the last few years and that can’t be topped.

            • La Cieca

              The shorter Wagner parts I can see her doing -- I mean, she’s over 40. The voice is maybe a little too glamorous for Brangaene, but Venus and Fricka would make sense. Eventually she can do Kundry, thought I think it will need to be in a very specialized production:

              https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/08977ca9a5f603c4aab3a8412f6f057e2e1d3ceb54961e2d478757d6a816f577.jpg

            • Camille

              HaHA!!

              This must be the photo from the production in which she goes all Gwyneth and sings Venus/Elisabeth.

              Maybe one or two but I don’t care to hear that smooth and even voice, so unusual these days, oushed and tortued and cossetted into something too heavy. It’s not a matter of age but of the type of consirency and. Ilor of the voice. As it stands now. A beautiful Venus may be nice but that’s really heavy bobsledding in there. Better the world’s most glam Fricka since good ol’ Waltraud.

              Or even better yet, Cassandre or Didon or revive La Reine de Saba, the Masonic Opera! And a real stinker. On verra!

            • 4 hours 40 including two intervals, and “the very first version of this great five-act opera: the version modified by Verdi himself for the work’s first performance in 1867. Echoing this historic version, the Paris Opera will be scheduling the five-act version of Don Carlo in Italian in 2019.” Does that mean ballets?

            • Camille

              If you can wait about 48 hours, I promise to get all the information to you, culling it all from my complete, exhaustive CE and yes, the first version (edited even before performance) does have the ballet, as I recall at the moment.

              Looking at the time, though, 4 hours 40 including two intervals which I would assume to be at least twenty minutes(?), that is really not so much time, so I am wondering what they will actually perform, even with the announcement in this matter.

              So, if you will allow me a bit of time to comb through the materials, I’ll get back to you as soon as I am able, as it will help you to go into battle with Don Carlos with as much armament as possible. Since there are almost as many versions of this opera as Les Contes, well, who knows what will actually be done. Don Carlos, was at the very least, supervised by its own composer who happened also to be living at the time, giving it the advantage.

              As this project interests me very greatly and I have a huge interest in historical performance, please allow me to be of aid and to get back to you with the pertinent information as you will be my ears and eyes at this performance!

              À bientôt!!
              Avec mes regards!
              C.

            • Let me see on my end what I can find out. I didn’t dig around yet.

            • Here is a very detailed explanation in French of the various versions, even with graphs! It says the version we are about to hear is the version initially rehearsed of the 1866 score.

              http://fomalhaut.over-blog.org/2017/04/les-versions-de-don-carlos-des-repetitions-parisiennes-de-1866-a-la-version-d-antonio-pappano-de-1996.html

            • Satisfied

              NPW -- still on a desperate quest to find a single ticket for October 19 Don Carlos (I swear, every date has opened up on the ticket exchange except for the date I need!). If you come across any leads, please email me here: Theaccidentalson@gmail.com.

              Thanks!!!

            • You’ll have to console yourself by assuming it’s a fiasco!

            • Satisfied

              You’re only making me want to see this more now :-(

            • fantasia2000

              Hello Satisfied, there is ONE seat offered on boursechange website right now for October 19. GO, GO, GO if you haven’t got a ticket! It’s for Category 5 though.

            • Satisfied

              Damn it! Just getting to this message now and it’s (not surprisingly) gone.

              Thank you for the help though! If you happen to see that pop up again, I’d love it if you emailed me at theaccidentalson@gmail.com.

            • Camille

              The rehearsal version?
              OMG, that IS a rarity!! Allons-y!!!!

            • Camille

              Grand merci. I will read tomorrow and it will help me to understand more what they are up to with which parts of which version.

              Oh, I forgot about Modena, too. How could I?

            • Porgy Amor

              That sounds like what the Vienna State Opera performed with its Konwitschny production, new in 2004.

              “The version modified by Verdi himself for the work’s first performance in 1867” had me thinking they were going to observe all the cuts Verdi made before the first night. Thus, the opera would start with the hunting horns; the Act Four number with the tenor/bass/chorus (the tune that would be reused for the Lacrymosa from the Requiem), and a few other musical episodes now well known would be omitted. But “the version Verdi originally intended” is another matter.

              I think of these two options as “premiere” and “premiere-plus.” And it sounds as though this will be premiere-plus.

              The Bertrand de Billy live Vienna recording of premiere-plus (ballet and all) clocks in at 4:05:55. So, we will round down and say four hours, and two 20-minute intervals would get you to 4:40, sure.

            • Yes, they are saying the “rehearsal” version.

            • Camille

              Very excellently put, PA. You deserve a bravo today.

              Well, you deserve one every day.

            • Camille

              Allo mon cher ami!! Hahaha! I just strained myself to read all the above in the original, not noticing your translation, which is quite good, too.
              Well I must say that I’ve had this complete score the exhaustive version of every speck of Don Carlos for at least eleven or twelve years now, and do not know how long it has been published, so it is about time! The ballet is NOT without dramatic function, I slightly disagree with Maestro Jordan on that point, and will explain later after I have the time to discuss some other points.

              I am so excited about this and wish it would be filmed or something, as I would LOVe to hear it.

              À plus tard!! Et grand merci!!!!!

            • “Quite” good?

            • Camille

              Su-PERBE! Ça ira?

              Well now—
              I’ve finally located my source and can tell you this:

              There are 16 (sixteen) separate sources (fonti) for, complete and partials, to Don Carlos. The music was still only being unearthed as late as 1985, amazingly enough, as told in the following paragraph:

              Nel dicembre 1985, alla Bibliothèque-Musée de l’Opéra di Parigi è stata ritrovata una cartella contenente le pagine tolte dal manoscritto della partitura copiata nel 1866-67 dall’autografo verdiano per le prove in occasione della prima rappresentazione del Don Carlos. Grazie a questa scoperta, possiamo ora presentare fedelmente tutta la musica originale per le sezioni P .f, P .g e P .h.”.

              Meaning, the music discovered in the Bibliothèque in December 1985 now enabled them to complete the music of the autographed copy pulled at rehearsals of the first performance, for those sections they referred to above. (Which I need to find).

              More later. This is a big mess. I need to study and then isolate elements to present to you. I haven’t yet looked at the chart you put up but there is one herein which shows which acts and materials were done and where…be it Parigi or Napoli or Milano…or Timbuktu. Oh no, that would be Aïda. Perhaps the same chart? On verra.

              Although the critical notes are signed April 1986, the Copyright date year for this says 1974, and mine being a Ristampa from 1999. I’m sorry, but the notes are only in Italian and German but I figured you would get the gist of the italiano above. This makes me wonder why this music has been sitting around for as long as it has with so few attempts at reviving it. Maybe it isn’t cost worthy, but be that as it might, however, the Paris Opera should have a particular pride of interest in this, similar to that of the Met’s relation with the Trittico and Fanciulla.

              Maintenant, excusez-moi, s’il vous plaît, parce-que je suis très fatiguée et je n’en peux plus. À demain!

            • Thank you for going to so much trouble.

              No problem with Italian, thanks.

            • Camille

              Ecoutez, mon NPW,

              I finally had the chance to look over the Fomalhaut link for one hot second, and it really will give you all the information contained in the score, so, just if you need tidbits here and there, please do not hesitate to ask, as I will be pouring over it in the next two weeks in anticipation of the performances. I have already probably been a redundant nerd, in any case.

              So, until you need further information, I stand at the ready and no trouble at all, but a great pleasure. I do hope the performances will be a triumph for all concerned so as to get this work lodged into the repertory in the manner in was originally conceived. I do wonder why they will be putting on the Italian version in a couple more years, though?

              Avec mes plus sincères compliments —-oh and Grand Merci for reacquainting me with Formalhaut, which I discovered a while back on my own, but had, typically, forgotten about.

            • Camille please don’t be offended if I don’t respond much over the next week or so -- I’m in a place where I can only access Parterre via smartphone… and I’m not great with the tiny keyboard.

            • Camille

              D’accord and message received.

              Frankly, I need time to read all the materials you have volunteered as well as what I have here, to be of any real assistance and am currently feeling under the weather—both literally and figuratively--so, a week’s time sounds good to me.

              I take it you are no longer in Boston? Samarkand, Baku, Timbuktu, Nineveh? Bon voyage and happy landings, M.NPW!

            • Heheh Jouy-le-Moutier…

            • fantasia2000

              Thank you for the translation, NPW. I’m so looking forward to this. I managed to find a single ticket on the ticket exchange for my birthday week (10/25), together with Falstaff’s opening night and the sold-out Bausch’s Rite of Spring.

              Opera de Paris seems to be having one hell of a season; I just found out that the new Jephtha is also sold out! Luckily I managed to find a single ticket before they were all gone!

              Looks like I’ll be crossing Atlantic a lot this season! ;)

            • The 2016 average was 92.5% full (376 performances).

            • fantasia2000

              Oh wow, I didn’t know that. Unbelievable!!!!

            • “Satisfied” will be very dissatisfied to know you found a ticket.

            • fantasia2000

              It was like a miracle for me to get a ticket!!! Everyday I opened the boursechange website without fail. In addition, boursechange process is not straight forward also. After I concluded the purchase online, I had to wait till I got confirmed, then I had to wait till I received the ticket, and finally I had to go back to the website to release money. I found another ticket earlier, but I got canceled eventhough I concluded the purchase online. So, yes, I’m extremely excited for my early birthday present from the Opera Gods! ;)

  • Lindoro Almaviva

    Oh, Neil, you said it so brilliantly. Thank you. I agree with your assessment and i will be forever grateful to Albert. I am thankful I was never on the receiving end of his insults, but even when insulting someone he gave a masterclass on the use of english language. Rest in peace, finally, Maestro

  • Niel Rishoi

    My heartfelt thanks to all of you for your thoughtful, kind comments, and to La Cieca for posting this.

  • Camille

    Here is the playwright in his own words describing how he came to be a playwright: (thanks to Mr Mintzer of opera-l for having posted this:

    A PLAYWRIGHT’S OPERATIC LOVE AFFAIR

    By ALBERT INNAURATO; Albert Innaurato’s plays include ”The Transfiguration of Benno Blimpie” and ”Gemini.”

    Published: November 24, 1985

    REPRINTS

    By the time I was 16, I had written my third opera. It was my own adaptation of ”Anna Karenina.” I still remember the long scene where Anna, having been hit by a train but still able to sing, is discovered by Vronsky, and dying, confides in his arms that she is carrying his child. My composition class received this with undisguised hilarity and contempt. I was very upset, since I was proud of my ability to generate long, sweetly nostalgic themes in B flat from Anna’s fragmented groanings in G minor.

    The teacher, seeing me bite back tears, took me aside. ”You know,” he said, ”I don’t think you have much future as a composer, you have too good a memory. But your librettos are always a lot of fun. I think you should write plays.”

    Well, the seed was planted and eventually I did write plays. But they were really operas. I knew next to nothing about the spoken theater. The theater, for me, was the opera house. In fact, life was the opera house. Very early on I became adept at getting in. When young, my main tactic was to stand in a prominent place outside the opera house and look pathetic. Since I was a very chubby Italian boy with big black eyes, this always worked.

    It also worked the first time I ran away from home, one Saturday morning in the depth of winter. I had several weeks’ allowance in my pocket, not for train fare or ticket, but for the grand and great records shops which, rumor had it, abounded in the metropolis. I got on the train in Philadelphia (it wasn’t going to New York in my mind, but to opera) and wept, claiming to have lost my ticket. Then, on arrival at the old Met, I stood weeping with the standee line until someone took pity and gave me a cheap ticket for ”Andrea Chenier.”

    I was utterly uncritical about what I saw. In those days, in Philadelphia, the scenery would often wave when a well-endowed singer took a deep breath. It didn’t matter to me; that was life. That was the only world worth living in. A world where fat people were young and beautiful forever. A world where the darkest deeds and most horrible tragedies were celebrated in the most glorious music and the victims emerged from endless death throes into equally endless ovations. The spoken theater seemed impossibly drab after that. ”When are they going to start singing?” I whispered to an aunt who had taken me to see the Old Vic on tour in ”Romeo and Juliet.” I interpreted her deep sigh as her sharing my disappointment that they probably wouldn’t.

    I based all my early plays on operatic procedures. But I wanted to achieve the impossible. I might have been held spellbound as Tosca finds the knife, for example, but it wasn’t only plot and character, it was that wonderful theme in F-sharp minor that deepened the moment. In plays I found, we have only words and action, in life, only confusion, but in opera . . . !

    My interest in the subject started one Saturday afternoon when I was 7 or so: An opera was playing on the radio and I was lying around. It was ”Rigoletto,” and it seemed to me I knew all the tunes; that I’d heard them before; that I even knew the story, sort of.

    In the days that followed I wouldn’t rest until somehow I had procured a libretto -- one of those old-fashioned ones with the major arias written out -- and I had contrived to reproduce these arias at the piano. And the next Saturday I was at the radio listening to another opera. And the Saturday following that one I was there again. No relative or family friend with a few opera records was safe from my opportunings. I entered the big library and read librettos, and puzzled through scores. I’d become an opera addict.

    By the time I was 13 I was setting out to compose my own operas. There was something a little terrifying about my ambition -- my talent was less in evidence. But my thirst for musical knowledge, my rapacity for all things operatic, got me into advanced composition classes.

    No one was more industrious than I. I’d write my own librettos, then, laboriously, I’d draw up lietmotifs and thematic procedures, for I was a snob and all my work had to be through composed. My first opera, finished when I was around 14, was ”The Vampires.” It was a fable about love, longing (the vampire was the eternal outcast) and espionage intrigue -- the Christine Keeler affair had been uncovered in Britain and several details about that notorious call girl and her all-too-intimate relationship with government officials found their way into my plot.

    I even pubesced at the opera. This was during ”Die Walkure” in Philadelphia. Regine Crespin was Sieglinde, and when she held Nothung, Siegmund’s shattered sword, aloft in Act Three and filled the house with gleaming tone at ”O hehrstes Wunder,” I understood several things about life which theretofore had been mysterious to me. Those 29 measures from Wagner through Crespin, her abandon, her mixture of voluptuous yielding and steely determination -all in terms of sound -- gave me my own notion of womanhood (and a very problematic notion it was to prove).

    I am very aware of all the elements in opera but I love voices, and I believe the human voice is the most perfect instrument, the most completely expressive sign of humanity. Orpheus sings to tame the beasts and quiet the demons; how much less appropriate had he rolled out a grand piano and tried to conduct them with a baton.

    In my opinion the singer is the soul of opera. It doesn’t matter whether the singer can ”act” in the limited mimetic style sanctified by television and the movie close-up. The ”acting” must be done first in the voice. Singing is breathing. Good singing is directing that breath with thought, consciousness and feeling. In the great voice can be heard all the strivings, the joys, the defeats, the longings of being alive on this earth. And because breath, like life, runs out, in the great voice we can hear death, too.

    Who or what are the greatest singers? Are they tenors or sopranos? Have they good coloratura? Maybe. But as I hear them the greatest singers are those who are utterly singular, who in fact invent their own voices. This is why great singers tend to be unique and why great singing transcends vocal athletics. Some great singers have had flawed instruments or insufficient techniques. Some great singers have bad luck. Callas was such a great singer in our own time. Whoever sounded like that? Whoever dared sound like that? Where did she come up with that voice? She did not discover it singing at parties or in the shower or (if indeed it was she) singing ”Un Bel Di” for Major Bowes. Was she a mezzo with a remarkable upward extension, a spinto with same, a dramatic soprano with extraordinary flexibility, a coloratura with (in her prime) a remarkable richness and size to her tone and an astonishing downward extension? She was all those things. But basically she was self-invented. Caruso was such a singer. He was influenced, of course, but he transformed those influences into an utterly unique style and manner. None of his predecessors sounds the least like him or, as far as we know, sang in the same way -- not Marconi, Tamagno or De Reske. No one much believed in the young Caruso. He seemed a baritonal lyric tenor short on top and technically unreliable. His early years were full of crises.

    Like Callas he gambled and struggled to maintain a technical equilibrium. It is a moot point if he was more successful than she, for he too had a fairly short time, disappointed audiences during the final years of his career, and died early. Chaliapin was such a singer; so was Lotte Lehmann.

    Nor were any of these people ”just” singers. They leaped beyond professional accomplishment to become clergy of the opera temple. When, in listening to Chaliapin, we realize there is next to no difference between his speaking or declaiming and his singing voice, we realize that after a time he became music, that singing was as organic for him as breathing or thinking. I’d say the same about Lehmann and Callas and Caruso. Those who saw Giuseppe Taddei sing Falstaff this fall at the Met saw a similarly organic achievement. Who could say where the acting left off to become singing or where that beautiful diction became music? Taddei was not performing, he was living. And I am positive one can hear this in the Caruso and Chaliapin and Callas records -- however imperfect some of them are. They are not singing or acting they are living.

    I still have my scores and records and tapes. And I still trudge wherever I can to hear interesting new voices and pieces. I’ve spent a long time pining away, wishing somehow that I had been able to make a career in music. God knows I tried hard enough. But then again, perhaps I was lucky.

    I remember the exclamation of a very famous pianist/teacher with whom I once studied. I was hopeless but avid, so he pitied me. Once he threw all the music out the window into the snow, screaming in his heavy accent, ”Go out there in the mud and wallow, you . . . you . . . elephant!” But this one day he had returned weary and discouraged from a tour. I feared the worst, because I had a memory lapse in Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu. I sat aquiver, expecting all hell to break loose. Instead there was a deep groan and then a sweet smile. ”Thank God you not talented, Innaurato,” he said. ”That way you will die loving music.”

    • mirywi

      Both this and the Opera-L piece above explain why I’ve found myself crying a bit in private since hearing the announcement of Mr Innaurato’s death. It’s not like I knew him but his writing and stories make me feel like I do.

  • laddie

    I met Albert a few years ago in Philadelphia while I was visiting a friend there. What truly surprised me was that he was genuinely interested in what I had to say about a recent production we saw at the Met. I felt humbled. Will miss your brilliant mind, AI.