The world knows I’m an opera freak. I’ve been that way since 1978. I started thinking about the ‘greats’. It dawned on me that there is no way I should even begin listing anyone before 1978. It doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t properly rate them because I can’t put them into perspective. For that reason, I need to put an asterisk by everything. They call the era of the late seventies through to the end of the eighties the New Golden Age of Opera. I still don’t think the voices can be equaled. I know the tenors can’t. There were so many exceptional tenors, the truly gifted ones who weren’t exceptional had something of a rough time of it. Today there are basically two world-class tenors. Both are excellent but neither one are in the Domingo-Pavarotti ballpark. There weren’t all that many great baritones. At the time, the greatest of them all was almost treated like sh*t by critics. Today, the drool all over him, but they did not acknowledge him while he was singing. The Handsome Baritone, as my cousin refers to him, came along at the end of the era. We all knew he was going to be world-class and the successor to the ruling Great American Baritone. Today, there are so many good baritones, I don’t even know who his successor is going to be. In my humble and highly biased opinion, the only soprano who is even in the same league with the greatest of a generation – Bubbles, is Fleming. Joyce DiDonato is good, but she’s no Marilyn Horne, who is the only mezzo I ever paid money to go see. Leontyne was in a class all her own.
Funny how things change. Today is the era of baritones, my wonderful barihunks, thanks in no small part the greatest of them all. For awhile, at the Met, in the mid-1980s, if either Milnes nor Cornell MacNeil were singing, you never knew what you were going to get. There were a couple there who made me cringe. It is entirely different now. The roster of tenors is so shallow, you don’t know what you are going to end up having to endure. The same thing holds true with sopranos, including one who is considered a diva. Her voice makes me cringe. It reminds me of how my great-aunt’s old fashioned face powder smelled, if that makes any sense. There are some incredible mezzos. Aside from Jamie Barton, I wouldn’t go out of my way to hear them. They’re mezzos. I’m a baritone junkie
As far as baritones are concerned, where do we start, okay, with the second greatest baritone, in history, in my estimation. Please say a prayer for his health and speedy recovery. Keenlyside is elegant with Mozart, Gerald Finley, is exceptional. The Handsome baritone is the dean of them, today. There are amazing base-baritones, Bryn Terfel, Erwin Schrott, Ildar Abdrazak, and Luca Pisaroni. I would like to see more of Eric Owens and Mark Doss.
When I started writing this piece, I kept telling myself that I was being racist for not listing major black singers with the Met. I started looking into it, and was absolutely shocked. The big scandal, the way I see it, currently, at the Met, is the fact that there are only 2 black singers on the entire roster. Thank goodness Owens is one of them. Doss should be, but he’s not. Where are Laquita Mitchell and Latonia Moore. Tony Miller has a good gig with the Braves, but still, he needs to be at the Met. I haven’t even listed the young Barihunks coming along, but who knows if we’ll ever see them at the Met.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t follow the crowd about a lot of things. For the life of me I couldn’t see the uproar over the damn Confederate flag. Just take it down and move on with your lives. But – this is very real, very biased, very obvious racism. It was not there at the Met a few years ago. I remember when many of the leading ladies: Leontyne Price, Leona Mitchell, Cathy Battle, Shirley Verrett were stars – at the same time. One cannot say it is because of a lack of good black voices, that’s for sure. Just listen to the DVD the San Francisco opera did of Porgy & Bess, and you find yourself scratching your head. Why the hell aren’t these people at the Met? What on earth is going on here? When one considers how incredible Laquita Mitchell and Latonia Moore are, the only answer is racism. The Met wasn’t like that. There are stories about the way everyone stood up for Leontyne Price, and the impact she made on desegregation. While we are discussing racism, this is where we need to start.
Frankly, I’m sickened. I know what I think. Sure, everyone knew about the infamous break-up between Jimmy Levine and Cathy Battle, but that was just a good side-show. This is serious. I love the Met. It is one of my very favorite places and things in the entire world. This hurts. As far as I’m concerned, it’s going to leave a mark.