The Honor of first goes to: A Pulitzer prize winner!
My First Opera
By Martin Bernheimer
“Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding….
I seem to be at an awkward age. Ask me what I had for breakfast, and I’ll probably come up blank. Ask what colour socks I’m wearing, and I’ll have to look. Ask me the birthdates of my four children, and I’ll reach for the calendar. But ask about my first forays into the weird and wonderful world of opera, and I’ll probably remember too much.
The life-altering introduction took place back in 1948. The attraction was—what else?—“Carmen.” Tickets in the second balcony, commemorating my twelfth birthday, were a present from my parents. The locale was the glorious Boston Opera House, modeled on the Paris Opéra and, alas, long gone. The company was the San Carlo Opera, also long gone, a dauntless if somewhat bedraggled organization that toured America long before we recognized the concept of regional opera.
The images are still vital. Carmen was Coë Glade, exotic, dark-toned, frizzy-haired and wildly uninhibited. I found her wickedly sexy. My mother said she wasn’t the youngest Carmen she had ever seen. Next to this tempestuous temptress, Mina Cravi, the ultra-blond Micaëla, seemed doubly serene. Her soprano all a-shimmer, she stopped the show after her aria in Act Three (I didn’t know then that this is virtually de rigueur). I can still see her kneeling, slowly gesturing the sign of the cross during the orchestral benediction.
I don’t remember much about the Don José and Escamillo apart from their Italian names: Mario Palermo and Stefan Ballarini. I do remember finding it odd that the women of the chorus had to pretend to be street urchins in Act One—ah, economy—and I recall snickering at the ancient wrinkled-canvas flats that passed for scenery. Once a critic, always a critic….
If “Carmen” seemed marvelously ridiculous, my second opera, “Le Nozze di Figaro,” was relatively sublime. It took place in the same Boston Opera House, on March 25, 1949. But the company this time was the mighty Metropolitan.
My mother, who had studied design in Munich under Emil Preetorius, thought the sets were a bit shabby. They looked fine to little me. The center of attention was a new basso-cantante from Italy: Italo Tajo. He had inherited the role when the beloved Ezio Pinza decamped for Broadway and “South Pacific.” I loved Tajo’s dapper charm, his busy bravado, his mellow tone. I also wondered why he sang out of the side of his mouth. His Susanna–my measure for all who followed–was the exquisite Bidú Sayao. I’ll never forget the meticulous way she mimed the guitar accompaniment of “Voi che sapete,” or her silver thread of tone in “Deh vieni non tardar,” or how she stood motionless at the end, then dropped the flowers and suddenly disappeared at the final cadence.
Eleanor Steber was the melancholy Countess, John Brownlee the elegant Count, Salvatore Baccaloni the classic-buffo Bartolo, Hertha Glaz the witty Marcellina. In those days we had ensembles. I was initially disappointed not to see Jarmila Novotna as Cherubino, but the Met provided a sunny successor in Anne Bollinger, temporarily promoted from her usual duties as Barbarina (she died at 43 a dozen years later). Fritz Busch had presided over the New York run, but for the tour the Met enlisted another Fritz: Reiner. In those days we had conductors.
My wife, by the way, tells me I had oatmeal for breakfast. Ja, ja.”
As a postscript: I found a foto of Coe Glade, a great quote of hers and a critique offered on her by Anton Coppola
“Aroldo Lindi was a great dramatic tenor, with a resounding B flat, and could sing anybody under the table. He was terrific. We were on tour in Canada and he had a heart attack in Winnepeg. The company went on to Portland, where he did a Carmen with me there. That was his first since his heart attack. He sang a beautiful performance. On to San Francisco, he was to do Pagliacci that night. He called me the night before and said ‘ Coe, could you please go up into the audience and let me know how my voice sounds,’ I did and then went backstage as he was beginning the aria. From a chair in the wings, I heard Lindi doing the Ridi Pagliacci, ‘in..fronto’ …he was holding that note and I thought he was trying some new business. And the poor man, he wasn’t, he was dying. And he was holding that note. In desperation, I ran up on stage. I saw his knees buckle, and I went on stage in my fur cape and gardenias,, and by then, somebody had begun to ring down the curtain. As he sang this aria, the note was being held, until he died, right in my arms. I’ll never forget the expression on his face, when his soul left his body. He turned back forty years, a young man of twenty. It was unbelieveable. Very chilling, very chilling. A beautiful death for a singer…singing his favorite aria…holding his favorite note. ” Coe Glade, mezzo-soprano, during VRCS interview, Chicago
Coppola, 88, has performed Bizet’s opera countless times with every variety of singer. When asked about his favorite Carmens through the years he mentions Rise Stevens, who was acclaimed for her interpretation, but he also brings up worthy but virtually forgotten singers, such as Coe Glade, an American mezzo with whom he once toured.
“Coe Glade was my ideal Carmen,” he said. “Now that’s not a name that’s known today, and that’s not fair. She was the representative Carmen as far as I was concerned. She just seethed with sexuality, tremendous emotionalism. There were some other fine ones, but there was something about Coe Glade. She topped them all.” excerpted from a story in the Floridian newspaper, St. Petersburg Times Online by John Fleming, their performing arts critic Dec.1/05