A few days ago, I was playing my recording of the Tenor/Baritone duet from Carmen, which I sang with Franco at the Philadelphia Lyric Opera, in the mid ‘70's and happily relived that wonderful event with much admiration of his talent and not a little humor. I had first sung Roucher to his Andrea Chénier, with the San Francisco Opera, early in my career. He had missed the first two performances because of an “emergency” double hernia operation, which had Maestro Adler scrambling at the last minute for a Chénier! He found Richard Tucker, who was recovering from a mild heart attack and was reticent, to say the least, at having to perform one of his “signature” roles, on short notice.
(Richard told me he refused so many times, that he finally named a figure he was sure Adler would refuse; he got his fee! When I drove him to his hotel one day, Richard shared that, while he usually had a large bouquet of flowers in his suite at the St. Francis, there was only one red rose in a bud vase, with the note, “I’m paying you so much, I couldn’t afford the usual bouquet! Kurt.”)
Since he hadn’t sung for a while, he sang a tad less spirit, as was his wont, but his voice was crisp and fresh ... and he was absolutely glorious! (My last performance with Richard was a La Bohéme in New Jersey, with Renata Tebaldi. I hadn’t sung Bohéme with her in fifteen years.)
When Franco came in, he too was “rested” and sang his first aria beautifully, collapsing in “his friend’s arms,” whispering to me how much pain he was in from the operations. His two Chénier’s were wonderful as were his two Fanciulla’s-in which I also sang, the role of Sonora. I was able to add a "bit" that they still remember to this day. The horses belonged to Virginia Fellingham and actually pulled the Well Fargo Wagon in commercials and parades. She asked me, "Do you ride?" I said. "Some ..." She looked at me ... and thensaid, "Climb aboard Sam!" I adjusted the stirrups and stepped up ... then backed Sam up to where she was standing. She said, "Some!" We became great friends.
The first stage rehearsal, all the Principals horses were led on stage by a handler. I used to work cows for my brother-in-law, Utah. The score called for me to ride at a "gallup," dismount and sing Ola, Ola! I had an idea and asked Virginia if I could ride him in at a full canter, haul back and do a flying dismount, like I useta do when ropin'! She said, "Sure!" So she placed the handler in the middle of the stage to catch him when I jumped off. I figured the timing just right. We had about forty feet from the fly rail to the curtain line, so on cue, I gave him the heals and she gave him the quirt and-as he was a quarter horse- he took off like a shot! As I hit the curtain line, I hauled back on the reins and did flying dismount singing Ola, Ola!
That kinda stopped the show for a bit and, after a whole bunch of conversation with Lotfi Mansouri, he asked, "Can you do that every night?" Four performances in San Francisco and four in L. A. (different horse, same affect!)
Big splash in the S. F. Chronicle, from Bob Commanday ...
Earlier in the show, Franco had a close call, when his dresser had to bang on his door to get his attention for his entrance in Mini’s cabin scene-Loretta had been haranguing him “to get his juices flowing,” as I was told-and he ran out into the “snow storm” on stage, pulling his pants up, coat over one arm. Fifteen years or so later, we were combatants in the Carmen duet.
There was a little drama, at the first rehearsal, although it was a bit funny! While Franco had recorded Carmen in French ... he had always performed it in Italian! I suspect he felt, as “Corelli”, he could talk Maestro Guadagno into letting him sing in Italian ... while the rest of us would be singing in French. Anton wasn’t buying it, so our tenor spent most of the rehearsal time and the evening of the performance, in front of the prompter’s box … being fed lotsa lines in French. It was a bit annoying, but Franco was a wonderful guy ... and in spectacular voice!!!
In the first act, he held the high, interpolated B flat with Micaela ... until she cracked and burned and then did the same thing to the lovely lady, Regina Resnik, in the second. He tried it later with me, in the third and he was less successful ... he had to take the extra breath to finish. He wasn’t malicious, just reveling in a great night with his voice! Our director, Nat Merrill rushed up to me with his wife, Louise Sherman back stage laughing with, “You got him, you SOB, you got him!”
Sadly, like so many great singers, he stopped performing when he was only about 55!
There was nothing wrong with his voice ... his body/mind had just progressively forgotten ... what he used to do, how he used to it right; support ... and his that vital coordination, was lost! There was nothing wrong with his voice; he just couldn’t make it do what he want it to on command. That’s technique! He showed up at the request of Tito Capobianco at a luncheon for our Tosca, in San Diego. The voice was there ... but, the harnessing of flexible breath-pressure on demand was missing ... and it was kinda embarrassing. Fortunately, Anton was playing for him-thanks God-because he was all over the place, skipping around and only Anton could stay with him.
Previously, while I, as his Secretary, was coaching Sir Rudolf Bing how to act as my employer, Sir Edgar, in the opera, The Young Lord, for the NYCO, I asked him if he had ever acted on stage? He replied that, the only time he had spoken on stage was to say. “Mr. Corelli with not be singing in tonight’s performance!”) That was toward the end.
I was reminded of Robert Merrill’s final two performances on the Met on Tour ... I was his cover for his last two Ballo in Maschera nights.
There was nothing wrong with his voice, but he had grown leery and was no longer lifting and growing through his high voice and he was apprehensive, and basically threw them away and moved on ... Otherwise,he sang brilliantly throughout but, couldn’t sing the “money notes!” and those were his last performances. His voice was just fine, but he had stopped “lifting, giving an extra shot of breath-pressure, for the high notes,” which he always had done before!
Ironically, Bob “taught” me to sing opera! By my listening to his records, as I learned so many of my roles! I told him one day, that it was because of him that I became an opera singer ... and he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Oh gee kid, I’m sorry!” Funny to the last ... I had dinner with them several times later, when he was singing in Atlantic City.
Howard Keel ... couldn’t sing a note higher than a middle C, for the previous seven years. Constance Towers who had sung King and I on Broadway, recommend me to him, as I had “retrieved” her voice. Howard and I had met the year before at the Bohemian Club Encampment, on the Russian River. Because he was so competitive, by my explaining to him that he had just forgotten how to support and then simply, by showing him my technique … there was no way he was going to let me sing higher or louder that he did! In thirty minutes, by the clock, we sang a whole bunch of high notes together. “Pretty good high notes?” He seemed a bit shaken ... “Pretty good F’s?” “Uhhh ... yeah!!!” “They were G’s!” "Your full of ....!" and it was a G.Three weeks later, Man of la Mancha was being sung IN KEY, not a fourth lower, as he had been singing it!
I coached Renata Scotto for her final recital at the Paris Opera. Her daughter sent me the final tape. I recently realized that, in my bringing back her technique, she extended he career, for another 16 years, I think it was.
“Andy Williams lost his voice,” said Pat Boone whose voice I had brought back in nine sessions. I had Andy sing a fully sustained, operatic high A in thirty minutes. He had six sessions and then sang his 17 week-twelve shows a week- season at his theater in Branson, MO ... without using his “back-up” tape for the run! I had to do this three times, because he refused to sing from December to May! ... three times!
Beverly Sills just was tired of singing and had taken over the reins of the N Y City Opera ... or I would have extended her career significantly. She had lost her voice once before ... She had announced to me that she was taking the whole summer off to spend it with Peter at their wonderful home in Martha’s Vineyard, for the very first time ... and “ ...wasn’t going to sing a note!” I naturally assumed she meant she “...wasn’t going to sing a note ... for money!” NOT that she wasn’t going to SING ... at all!
At the end of the summer, came the Fall N Y City Opera season. I thought it strange that we would be starting out the first day with an orchestra rehearsal of Manon, which was already in the repertoire and wasn’t for another six weeks. “Herself” flew in, at the last minute and banged her chair up against mine with, “Richard, I CAN’T FIND MY VOICE!” (Of course she couldn’t find it ... “USE IT OR LOSE IT!”)
We started to sing with the orchestra … and she really “couldn’t find her voice!” Julius stopped to give the orchestra notes. We sat down and I told her, quickly ... “Do what you do when you mark. Spin a small tone, forward, in your nose, little volume, go toward a straight tone, spin it waaaay over there ... don’t worry about the words, DO WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU MARK!” The first try was better. Julius stopped the orchestra again “... to give notes” and her … time! “That’s right just spin the tone, connect the vowels, mark, just keep the sound going waaaay over there!” ... and her voice was back!
I sometimes wonder, what would have happened to the Manon, Live from Lincoln Center ... if I hadn’t been sitting in that chair, at that particular moment in time ...
Arbitrarily, after forty-five, fifty ... singers start to anticipate that they won’t be able to keep singing ... as they are getting older! Well, maybe, just maybe they aren’t singing as much as they used to ... AND SIMPLY DON’T KEEP THE MACHINE WELL OILED AND ALWAYS AT THE READY!
How would I know? I allowed that to happen to myself, about ten years ago, when I was working with Georgia Frontiere, the owner of the St. Louis Rams. I wasn’t in the loop, that she was battling cancer, so that’s why weren’t singing anywhere near as much as we usually did ... and I simply didn’t keep my machine well oiled. One day, I virtually couldn’t get through an aria. Long story short ... after about four months I said, “Physician, heal thyself!” I got out my recording of La Gioconda, with the magnificent baritone Piero Cappuccilli and the moment I heard his voice ... I realized that I had lost my forward focus and resonance! I was way back in my throat, falsely adding color!
I had first heard Cappuccilli in Vienna singing Rigoletto and realized anew that being a “dramatic” baritone had nothing to do with adding darkness or the weight of the voice. It is in the brilliance of the tone! Just for fun ... Go to my audio page and listen to my two arias from La Gioconda, Pescator and O Monumento, with Metropolitan Opera! Also, Eri tu, from Ballo! ... Comes the light!!!
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SO... YER SINGIN’ WELL ... HOW DO YOU GET ON STAGE?