PART I: It’s My Birthday & I’ll You Know What **Tch If I Want Too!


This has been an interesting week for The Pink Flamingo.  First, I am far too young to be a great-aunt.  I am far too young to have a sister who is now a grandmother.  Little Miss Cutie Catie (Sarah Catherine) was born on Monday, weighing in at 6 lbs and 14 ozs.  I’ve discovered that my sister doesn’t enjoy being called ‘Granny’, especially when put in conjunction with Granny Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies.  Go figure!

Regular readers of The Pink Flamingo, by now, must know that, as much as I love baseball, the wild west, and politics, I love opera even more.  I’ve been around long enough, and seen enough that I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable fan.

Opera singers fascinate me. Because we live in such a superficial world, where people have a tendency to gush over really vile musicians, who have no talent, and can’t carry a tune, the average American doesn’t even begin to understand or comprehend the skill, training, physical stamina, and just plain nerve it takes to walk onto a stage wearing a costume that may weight fifty pounds.  The costume alone is treated with fire retardant that is probably a carcinogen. They must then navigate along a stage that can literally be a physical danger. (An excellent example of this was the flooring on the magnificent Zefferelli Otello done for the Met, back in the 1980s.)

A singer must be able to act.
There are often extreme physical demands put on a person during a roll.
Most of the time they are singing in a language that is no their first language.
Many times they don’t even know the language, but are coached in their lines.
Every note must be perfect.
They stand for up to three or four hours under extremely hot lights, becoming dehydrated.
Think of doing Shakespeare and singing every note.
One little mistake and the boos begin.
They are, for their efforts, fairly ill paid.
Opera singers don’t get rich.
Only a handful have ever become ‘superstars’.
Those who are superstars are rarely recognized as such in the US.
Like an athlete, there is a limit on a singer’s career.
Opera singers are a heck of a lot like baseball players, without the money or the glory.
The critics are merciless.
The fans are even worse.

And — on top of all of this, after a performance, a singer is expected to stand, smiling, schmoozing with their gushing fans, sometimes hundreds of them, signing autographs, and putting up with crap a professional athlete would refuse to endure.  Baseball players have managed to separate themselves from the adoring masses, allowing themselves to be treated as superstars.  If an opera singer were to demand such equal treatment, they would be castigated, treated like dirt, and booed the moment they stepped on stage.

According to the gossip columns and the “fans”, opera singers owe everything to their fans.  The only thing they owe to their fans is a job well done, professionally, and every once in awhile a new recording.

Recordings are another problem.  If you are a writer, you can understand how difficult it is to score a record label.  Very few singers are fortunate enough to have a discography library.  If you think of the thousands of men and women who, over the years, have sung, maybe 10%, closer to 5% are fortunate enough to snag a record label.  (The Pink Flamingo has noticed that a few brave souls are starting to think outside the box and take matters into their own hands and go ‘indy’, like thousands of writers are doing.  It is something we will know more about in the next few years).

If we live here in the US, getting access to recordings done in Europe can be like solving a Sherlock Holmes mystery. It took me weeks to hunt down and manage to get a copy of Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s Deja Vu.  It is not available in this country.  It is more European pop music than classical.  If you know anything about the operatic voice, you know that the way to judge the real power of that voice is with cross-over music.  Very few singers, Sherrill Milnes, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Erwin Schrott, Peter Hoffman, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky have been able to successfully do ‘cross-over’.  The voice must be trained to do this type of music, which is why the greatest baritone of them all, Sherrill Milnes, is now working with young baritones, teaching them how to sing cross-over.

Very few opera singers can do what Hvorostovsky can do.

This takes me to my rant, which will come tomorrow.



2 thoughts on “PART I: It’s My Birthday & I’ll You Know What **Tch If I Want Too!

  1. My dad would love this post, but he would argue that no, no, no…Tito Ruffo was the greatest baritone ever (Dad for some reason had a soft spot for singers who were a bit, hmmm, wild and crazy with their roles). Dad and his family are Italian, and were opera fanatics — they used to talk of singers as some people talk about sports stars, or cooking chefs nowdays…or politicians. It was very fun listening to them, because unless it was somebody they just really didn’t like (then it was “that hack” and you didn’t hear anymore about them) they had singers categorized by their strengths/weaknesses/quirks/development and would discuss them ad nauseum — that’s how you knew that singers could be well regarded, but in one role they were superb, in another a disaster.

    I remember him listening to a CD of Dmitri that I had: Russian folk songs. My dad (whose health was pretty bad at that point) was quite approving: “in a couple of years, if all goes right and he doesn’t fall into the trap of ruining his voice, he’ll sing Boris Godunov; he has a voice meant for the part”…a few years later my dad was dead, and I was teaching ESL at the local college; one of the students was a Russian music major. We got to talking about music, which turned to opera, and Dmitri and my dad’s observation came up. The student got a kick out of it, given Hvorostovsky’s body of work — Dmitri was already singing Boris Godunov (somewhere I could here Dad saying: good, he’s voice is meant for the part, but he’d do well to not jump into the role and risk damaging it).

  2. Listening tonight, Dmitri’s lower range is incredible. Sure, the high notes are nice, but I love that lower male, toe curling sound. Evidently Milnes drove European conductors and tenors crazy because he could hit notes higher than they could. I gather now they try to control baritones so they don’t go for it. Milnes had an amazing range. There are times with Dmitri that he sounds so much like Milnes! Then again, Simon Keenlyside is just plain elegant. My problem is the fact that I’m a baritone junkie. I have no patience for tenors, can’t stand most mezzos, find sopranos boring! I am absolutely wallowing in this great age of baritones!

    I always think about Boccanegra as the ultimate baritone role. Want to see Dmitri do it. Saw Milnes do it many times. One year, on my birthday, had 2nd row seats at Met. My cousin said you could hear me sigh when he appeared on stage. (Sigh!)


    P. S. Thank you for the wonderful comment!

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