Bel Canto Society and Opera Fanatic: Corelli, Tenore Del Mondo

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Opera Fanatic Magazine

"...a real find, an offbeat cross between scholarly tome and lurid supermarket tabloid, filled with rare and unconventional treasures."

Opera Fanatic, Issue 2

Issue 2, 68 pages
(8.5 x 11")
(21.5 cm x 28 cm) US$3.95

Click to order Issue 2

Opera Fanatic, Issue 3

Issue 3,
92 pages (8.5 x 11") (21.5 cm x 28 cm) US$6.95

Click to order Issue 3

“Like it or not, approve of it or not, Opera Fanatic does make fascinating reading. And viewing. . . . the most interesting publication I’ve seen in a long time.”

 

“Giovanna wouldn’t come across for Pavarotti, even after he cooked spaghetti for her.”

 

“LaRouche is using the pitch issue to gain credibility and respectability.”

 

As a result of our efforts, Tebaldi disassociated herself from LaRouche

Opera Fanatic Magazine in the News

Mairi MacLean published a mammoth article about Opera Fanatic in The Edmonton Journal:

It arrived one morning in the mail, a glossy magazine from New York. 

The launch of a new classical music magazine, I thought, as I glanced at Dame Joan Sutherland, who beamed placidly out at me from the front cover.

Then, in an incredibly snappy double take worthy of Groucho Marx, I was sucked into the lurid vortex of the magazine’s headlines. They were tantalizing and unusual, I had to admit. You would too, if you’d been there.“

Nude Centerfold!” blared one in red. “Tebaldi Trashes Sutherland, Sills and Cossotto,” hissed another. And at the bottom, incredibly, “For the First Time: Photos of Castrati.”

No stuffy, tiny-type esoterica of Gramophone or Early Music Quarterly here. But rather, as Monty Python and his friends would say, something completely different.It was my introduction to Opera Fanatic, a delightful and awesomely nutty magazine which has been described as a mix of Opera News, The National Enquirer and Rolling Stone.

I devoured the Sutherland issue, ordered two back issues and devoured them too. And I can report that for lovers of charming and eccentric curiosities, Opera Fanatic is a real find, an offbeat cross between scholarly tome and lurid supermarket tabloid, filled with rare and unconventional treasures.

Bizarre and bitchy, trashy and informative, OF features stories ranging from right-wing oddball Lyndon LaRouche’s weird campaign to standardize concert pitch to a profile of Metropolitan Opera soprano Aprile Millo, hyped as: “JFK—Millo’s Secret Dad?”

These share space with more conventional, almost academic pieces on vocal technique and great singers of the past. And the magazine’s photo captions are often hilarious and gossipy. . . .

But much of the magazine’s space is devoted to its readers, who, judging from their feedback in the form of letters and critical comments, are a colorful, disparate lot, united only through the bond of opera fanaticism.

It’s not surprising.

The founder, editor, principal writer and mastermind behind Opera Fanatic is likely the most fanatical of them all. He’s Stefan Zucker, holder of the Guinness Book of World Records title of “The World’s Highest Tenor.”

“Guinness reports it as the A above High C, but I have actually sung B-flat in performance,” reports Zucker, a pleasantly articulate and soft-edged voice on the phone from his New York apartment, Opera Fanatic’s headquarters.

A wearer of several professional hats, including singer, writer, broadcaster, producer and subject of the LP recording “Stefan Zucker: the World’s Highest Tenor, ” Zucker explains that he began Opera Fanatic for several burning reasons.

A freelance music critic who contributed to major magazines and newspapers, Zucker found he wanted freedom to produce articles which dealt with “taboo subjects. ” Then, when he began to host an opera program—also called “Opera Fanatic”—on New York’s Columbia University radio station, he quickly discovered he wasn’t the only opera fanatic on the planet.

“I understood that for some, opera is life’s principal joy,” says Zucker, whose radio show reaches some 56,000 fanatics in six states on the U.S. east coast. “They’re vastly knowledgeable and some have disc collections of 30,000 or 40,000 recordings. They know more than the critics,“ he continues.

Not only were those fanatics tough to stump when it came to the “Name the Voice” contests that Zucker regularly devises for his radio show (“No singer was too obscure for some of these people!”), but he also found that “They had a good deal to say about opera and its lore, and they needed a forum for multifarious views and debate. No other publication was meaty enough for them. ”

Thus Opera Fanatic, the magazine, was born. And now Zucker has fanatics up to his ears. “One lady called me five times today already; she’s a complete pest,” he confesses.

Opera fanatics can be found across North America, from tiniest hamlet to largest metropolis. More than 5,000 subscribe to OF, with single-copy sales estimated at just under 5,000.

“Our readership includes far-flung fanatics who have no access to many of the things those in major cities take for granted. And many fanatics feel isolated, feel that people misunderstand their love of opera. Perhaps their neighbors don’t like opera,” Zucker says.

Whether from Vancouver, North Dakota, New York City or the Isle of Man, OF readers are a vocal crew. Letters rage with passion for the art form, and the armchair critics obviously relish having a platform for sharing their fervently held opinions.

And they adore and gush about the gossipy tone of the mag. “It was a matter of survival,” Zucker explains of OF’s scandal sheet approach, “With the radio show I can get listeners to tune in for exposés and revelations, and they’ll stay put for archival recordings. ”

It’s the same with the magazine. Entice them with the juicy lowdown on Plácido, and they might end up reading about forgotten composer Saverio Mercadante. . . .

Zucker laments that taste is shaped by “casting and repertoire decisions ” made by too few administrators, that opera is “becoming more homogenized.”

“We live in the age of Barbie Doll opera—singers who move well and look good but express little,” he suggests. What gets lost in the process is the singer who doesn’t fit snugly into the system.

“We no longer accommodate the crazy singer, the petulant diva—they’re selected out,” declares Zucker, who is of the opinion that “Some of the most interesting performers are more than a little bit crazy—I’ve seen more interesting, flamboyant, volatile singers in church basements!” . . .

I asked Zucker why opera stimulates such fanatical responses. You don’t find jazz fans coming to fisticuffs over who’s a better guitarist, Joe Pass or Herb Ellis, for example.

“Catharsis,” is Zucker’s terse reply.

“Most people remain indifferent to or bored by opera unless it has made them weep or given them spinal chills,” he says. “Once that’s happened, one goes back for more. And many will endure hundreds of mediocre performances in the hope of re-experiencing that catharsis.”

Indeed, according to Zucker, those frustrated by their search for cathartic thrill can become “decadent” in their tastes. “This can lead them to give vent to witticisms, or it can lead to booing,” he cautions.

As for booing, it’s a fine operatic tradition, and one which will be the subject of an article (called “Booing: True Confessions”), scheduled to appear in the next issue of Opera Fanatic.

As well, there’ll be a long-awaited story on the late, great Maria Callas, and her notorious tape worm. “She is said to have swallowed one to lose weight....” Zucker trails off, mysteriously.

The magazine appears sporadically, but is well worth the wait. Enjoy! If you don’t enjoy, write—Zucker happily prints letters which blast and condemn the magazine.

(And in case you’re curious, the castrati article mentioned above, teasingly entitled “Did the Castrati Have Balls?” reveals the question marks surrounding the thousands of castrated males who dominated European singing centuries ago. Did they have libido, yes or no? And for you voyeurs, the centerfold in question proved to be an ancient photo of long-dead baritone Victor Maurel—“immortal creator of Iago and Falstaff”—whose private parts, sorry to say, remain discreetly covered, courtesy of an attractive fig leaf.)

Patrick Franklin published a substantial article on the magazine in the Monterey Herald:

One of the undisputed side benefits of this job is the occasional treasure that floats up in an ocean of mail. Well, “treasure” may not be the proper term for what washed in a few weeks ago, but it certainly merits the title of the most interesting publication I’ve seen in a long time.

Imagine, if you will, a combination of Opera News and National Enquirer, livened with a sprinkle of Rolling Stone. If you can do so, you’ve undoubtedly seen what I’m talking about for yourself.

It’s a publication called Opera Fanatic and, believe me, it lives up to its name. This is a magazine for people who really believe in opera, the real devotees who can hurl insults (and maybe a fist or two) at anyone who suggests that their idols have larynxes of clay.

The magazine plays to those hardy and highly vocal fans in the top gallery, and its very cover gives indication that you’re not about to leaf through another polite summation of what’s going on in the white-tie-and-tail set. “Nude Centerfold,” cries a banner across the corner; and sure enough, there’s an ancient print of baritone Victor Maurel, whose modest fig leaf barely escapes the staples. . . .

More typically, one of the “teaser” lines promises “Tebaldi Trashes Sutherland, Sills and Cossotto.” Now that’s what opera fans want to hear, I suspect: a diva getting down and dirty about her rivals. Of course, there’s more. “Bonisolli: a Tenor’s Tantrum” offers another juicy story. . . .

Zucker writes a decent piece on the forgotten composer Mercadante, as well as a surprising article on the oddball backing of right-winger Lyndon LaRouche by several operatic superstars. [In 1989, Tebaldi and Barbieri ran unsuccessfully for the European Parliament on the slate of LaRouche’s Patriots for Italy party; in November 1988, Cappuccilli’s endorsement of LaRouche was shown nationally on a LaRouche-for-President TV commercial; hundreds of singers back a bill LaRouche has had introduced in the Italian Senate to lower the tuning pitch.] . . . Zucker has supplied the only mention of the [LaRouche bill] I’ve seen in print, and very admirably goes on to discuss the history of tuning standards throughout the world. . . .

A good deal of space is devoted to readers’ letters, surveys, transcripts of radio shows, and a few reviews. Whatever value the views expressed may have is very much open to debate; but the presence of real passion is impossible to question. . . . (“Boos, Hisses and Bravos”)

     
Robert Everett-Green published a massive article on Zucker and the magazine in the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Zucker’s magazine, Opera Fanatic, is a strange hybrid of the scholarly journal and the supermarket tabloid. In its pages can be found sober, well researched articles, as well as lurid exposés. . . .

The latest issue of Opera Fanatic contains an article that neatly straddles the scholarly and the sensational. [Everett-Green went on to summarize Opera Fanatic’s articles on LaRouche, many opera superstars and the tuning pitch.]

But the most interesting thing about any issue of Opera Fanatic may be the way the magazine acts as a kind of Democracy Wall for a feverish operatic subculture. At least half the magazine consists of letters from readers, who let fly with critiques of singers that are often more sharply worded than the most hostile newspaper review.

Typically, these fans view the opera world in terms of the blessed and the damned, judged according to the standard set by some favorite singer (usually dead or retired). They know of no more sacred duty than to defend their idols, and to vilify all false gods. They have little or nothing to say about conductors or stage directors, except when those have been judged to have been in the way of a singer—or to have slept with one. For Zucker’s readers, opera is nothing but singing and the adoration of singing. . . (“Magazine Fans the Flames of Opera-Lovers’ Passions”)

 Barbara Zuck (no relation) published a lengthy article about Opera Fanatic in The Columbus Dispatch:

One has to admire Zucker’s guts. He lives in a city dominated by the Met’s influence, the influence of its board and the influence of Met Artistic Director James Levine. Not only has Zucker dared to investigate and criticize aspects of the Met’s practices and its roster of stars, he has dared to make people wince.

In the most recent issue of Opera Fanatic, Zucker ran the results of a poll of listeners to his radio show. Titled “The Met’s Approval Rating,” the poll gave the Met only a 32.58 percent endorsement.

Other stories have taken well-aimed shots at opera’s greats: [Zuck cited the Tucker, Domingo, Bonisolli, Tebaldi, Millo and LaRouche revelations, giving particulars].

Like it or not, approve of it or not, Opera Fanatic does make fascinating reading. And viewing. . . .

There can be no question that Zucker has brought a different approach to covering opera and its personalities. Where else can you get dirt like this on such a high-minded subject?

     
“Opera Fanatic is hilarious,” declared Wes Blomster in the Boulder Sunday Camera, adding “It might be the Mad Magazine of opera. . . . Readers fill several pages with outpourings of the heart about singers, about the Met and about the magazine itself.” Blomster quoted from listener letters (“Corelli sang like a pizza with everything on it”), but also said, “issue three contains meaty comment on the current effort to lower standard pitch. . . .” He concluded, “The magazine is a fine source of information about rare videos. . . .” (“New Magazine Combines Wit and Wisdom”) In a Daily Camera survey of operas on videotape, Blomster wrote, “Opera Fanatic, that delightful new journal that lets everything in the world of opera hang out, also operates a mail order service. Their catalog specializes in video releases of many fine old German musical films starring Richard Tauber, Joseph Schmidt and Erna Berger—to say nothing of a Salome with Leonie Rysanek in the title role.” (“Classical Music Video Selection Wide-Ranging”)

In the conclusion of an interview of Pavarotti in The Pittsburgh Press, Carl Apone wrote:

These days, there is a new, slick magazine on the market called Opera Fanatic, which features lots of gossip. In the most recent edition, a centerfold features singer Victor Maurel—nude except for a fig leaf. Mention of it amused Pavarotti.

“I do not see Pavarotti appearing there in the centerfold,” he said with a chuckle. “I give audiences the best I can with my voice, but not my body.” (“He’s 85 Pounds Lighter, but Not Centerfold Material Yet”)

Press clippings, continued

Samples from Opera Fanatic

Opera Fanatic Free Webcasts