On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

It's been a bad year for opera aficionados. Beverly Sills, Jerry Hadley, and now Luciano Pavarotti. After each death I felt as though a particle of light had flickered and disappeared. Beverly Sills had been an inspiration to me in my youth--she was, like me, Jewish and not conventionally pretty. She also, like me, had a sassy candor with a fresh sense of humor. Yet she possessed the confidence I lacked, the ability to charm, the ability to see and create great beauty. I wanted to be like her--I wanted to be her. I loved her exuberance, envied the joie de vivre she brought to every role she sang. Even before I loved opera, I loved "Bubbles."

I had the great good fortune to work with Jerry Hadley at the University of Illinois Krannert Opera Theater back in the late 70's. He was totally dedicated to his music, but he also, like Sills, had an irreverent quality, a sense of humor that made his characters real and accessible. From my view in the wings, I, along with the rest of the opera chorus, watched, entranced, as he played Rodolfo, Nemorino, Tom Rakewell, des Grieux, with grace and versatility. He was electrifying, his characters vivid and troubled and sexy, his voice powerful and emotional. In later years I listened to him on "Prairie Home Companion," bought his tapes, watched him on TV. He never failed to please an audience. I guess he had his own demons, though. How sad that he could not transcend his personal pain to immerse himself in the pleasure he brought others through his great talent.

Pavarotti. The name says it all. He is the gold standard for tenors, each high note a gift from heaven itself. He could be silly or serious, and played all roles as though his heart were in his voice. I would listen to his recordings and be transported by the purity of his sound, but there was more. There was a connection, a desire to communicate through the music, to create a perfect moment through a perfect note.

All three giants projected humanity through their voices and their acting. Their roles stick with us because they went beyond the technical aspect of producing notes, finding a spark of reality that made their characters live. They took chances and so entered our hearts. They are missed.


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