By now you’ve heard the news about our favorite baritone. It is heart-breaking. Opera is like baseball. It does break your heart. It will leave it in tatters. Like it or not, opera singers are athletes. Their job, on stage, can be as difficult as pitching five or six innings, or catching an entire game. It is an occupation not for sissies. It is demanding, stressful, and harrowing. It is exhausting. When you think about it, and start factoring the numbers, an opera singer has about as many good years in the bigs and a Major League baseball player does. They can extend it, by pacing themselves, but Placido Domingo is the extremely rare exception, not the norm. I suspect Thomas Hampson is going to prove to be the exception. Like I said, it is very rare. When Sherrill Milnes retired, I pouted for a decade, trust me.
Our favorite baritone has had to withdraw from his operatic career, due to balance problems. I don’t mind admitting, I’ve suspected this was going to happen sooner than later. I’ve mentioned this to several people. You could see him struggle a little at times. Operatic stages are not the safest places in the world. They are not conducive to maintaining one’s balance at times. I don’t know how anyone manages to do it, let alone someone who is experiencing serious balance issues.
I know a heck of a lot about balance issues. I’ve suffered from it, along with some serious vertigo since February of 1985. Trust me, it ain’t easy. I’m a total klutz. I can be standing perfectly upright, and trip over my feet. I’ll suddenly loose my balance, and reach out for something. “Don’t worry, I’m fine!” It is now normal for me, but it has taken years to get that way. I don’t do stairs well – going down them. Up is fine, other than a tendency to trip and fall upward. Going down can be terrifying. I take them one at a time, like a little old lady, and hold on for dear life, when I do. Add darkness, and it’s not a good thing. I can’t even step off a curb without holding on to something. Or – try driving into a parking place, and someone in front of you is backing out of another. It is wild. I do my own driving. It helps. Riding with someone can be a total disaster. Just riding with someone, going on to an interstate highway is an E-ticket! I can literally feel like I’m going into Zero-G.
It’s one thing to approach this from the point of view of a klutz, but when the person dealing with this is a strong, fit, Alpha-male, who is accustomed to being a wonderful dramatic actor on stage, who can buckle a swash with the best of them, ant it must be daunting. It also takes a tremendous amount of courage to admit limitations. I know for a fact that fatigue and stress only make it worse. (There was this little, very ungraceful fall in the grocery store on Friday. A normal person would not have experienced it. I did, and I was holding on to the cart.) We are all terribly upset over the news, but our lives aren’t being upended.
He hasn’t been silenced. In less than a week he will return to the concert stage. Just remember, our favorite baritone has the potential to be a crooner of legendary proportion. The man’s crooning is enough to make one’s toes curl. I can deal with that. What matters is that he gets better. The wonderful thing about this day and age is that cures are right around the corner. In my case, I have waited for nearly 20 years, knowing for the past ten that there was a cure for brain mets melanoma in the works. They have it now. I live with the specter of melanoma. I have lived with it for 19 years. I am well aware there will be a second primary. I suspect I’m watching it develop on my right wrist. It isn’t large enough to do much of anything, but I know it’s there. I also know there is Hope.