I’M SICK, BUT I HAVE TO PERFORM
I arose early, just like every other day, went
down to the Westside, 72nd Street Oval and ran
my daily two miles, after my fifteen minutes of
calisthenics. Breakfast, play with my girls, do
some studying for an upcoming role and, like
clock work, lie down for my one hour nap, which
was part of my established regimen, on a
performance day. Since it was Sunday night, and
a 7:00 curtain at NYCO, I had taken my nap from
2 to 3 o’clock. I rose, made myself a steak and
salad, and then walked to the piano for a little
preliminary vocal work. I never “warm-up” my
voice, I always “tech” it up! With good
technique, it usually only requires some singing
of strong, well focused lines, i.e. “Tosca
divina ...” through the end of the “Te deum” or
“Pura sicome un Angelo ...” from Traviata.
This time, my worst fear was realized; my cords
weren’t approximating worth a hoot ... and I was
to sing my first note of “Rigoletto,” regarded
by many as the most challenging of the Verdi
Baritone roles–in about three hours. Added to
the pressure was the fact there were 33 friends
and guests, of ours, attending, chief among
them, Mr. And Mrs. Werner Klemperer (Colonel
Klink, of “Hogan’s Heroes). They were devoted
Met Opera fans, who had never seen a performance
at the New York City Opera. He had told me, five
nights before, that he always closed his eyes at
the Met, so that the acting didn’t disturb the
music. That’s why I told him there would be two
tickets at the box office that night, in his
name. He had protested, “But, what if I don’t
like your performance?” “Don’t come back stage!”
was my answer.
What to do ... well, lessee now, number one ...
don’t panic, dummy!
I walked into the bathroom and pulled out a
bottle of Prednisone 5 Mg. I popped five of
them, to start shrinking the cords, as they were
clearly swollen. “SINGER; KNOW THYSELF!”
It’s Sunday ... where’s my great friend, Charles
Schneider, the best Ophthalmologist on the
planet? Gone for the weekend, as I reminded
myself. Should I alert my understudy? Oh, that’s
right ... I was the only one at City Opera who
could sing the role. Sooo ...
Back to the piano ... I plucked the E above
middle C, but couldn’t phonate ... I ended up
able to get a tone marginally focused, a bit
thready, on middle C. Beverly Johnson, some
years before, had given me a great exercise,
which was a variation of one of my own ... but,
better, so I always used the beginning of mine
and segued into hers; my “ming ming ming me” a e
oo e a e aw e a e oo e a e aw with a descending
five note scale (ending on F). It is started
very high and forward in the honk, arch of the
tongue very high, narrow mouth, narrow tone.
With the exception of the m’s in the ming’s ...
the spinning tone is piano and seamlessly
legato... waaay ooover there! A shot of breath
pressure from the Bellybutton to start it and
the continuous feeding of that tone, with the BB
and the raising of the chest, to the lifting of
the final F .... is what makes it work.
I did one ... and would stop for about
thirty/forty seconds, then repeat for three of
for times. Then take five ... and start all over
again. That took about a hour and a half ...
always gentle, always gentle.
THE NORMAL REACTIONS FROM MOST SINGERS IS TO A.
CANCEL B. CALL THE COMPANY TO ALERT YOUR COVER,
ASSUMING THERE IS ONE OR C. TRY TO FORCE IT,
MAKE IT WORK, ONE NIGHT I HEARD MICHAEL MOLESE
TRY TO HOLLER HIS WAY INTO HIS VOICE, FOR ABOUT
AN HOUR BEFORE A LUCIA, AT WOLF TRAP. HE BARELY
MADE IT THROUGH A POORLY SUNG FIRST ACT. NOTE:
IF IT AIN’T GONNA WORK ... DON’T, OH PLEASE
DON’T TRY USING A BIGGER HAMMER.
When I had first tried to sing, that afternoon,
with no expectation the voice would not respond
properly, I wasn’t able to sustain an E ... but,
by curtain time, I had my full range back. Where
normally, in good or great “technique,” I would
be able to add a bit more drama (thunder), in a
phrase. This night was the exception ... I never
went past 90/95 percent on any high note. Not
knowing why my cords were swollen made me sing
the most technically perfect Rigoletto, of my
After the performance, Werner and Louise were
first at my dressing room door and subsequently
wouldn’t let us go until around three in the
morning. He had never seen an opera where he
forgot who the people were, singing the
performance, and was swept away by the event. He
never closed them, that night ... The same thing
happened to my buddy Jack Klugman ... but,
that’s another story. If you are a bit curious
about why all the fuss ... you might go to my
Audio/Visual page and see the six excerpts from
a Rigoletto dress rehearsal, with Opera Quebec.
It’s a bit dark, in some scenes, as it was not
lighted for TV ... but, most feel it is well
worth the journey ... and the sound is really