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Guests on “Opera Fanatic”

Franco and Stefan, June 1990

From 1982-94 I hosted the radio program “Opera Fanatic,”on the Columbia University station, WKCR-FM, in New York, where these interviews took place.

The March 3, 1990 program originally was nearly five hours and the March 30, 1991 program was three and one half hours. On the March 3, 1990 program, in particular, Franco wanted me to translate questions and statements into Italian. For the DVD and download version I edited out my Italian, with the result that my English flows oddly since the original sentences in many cases were half English and half Italian.

Franco and Loretta Corelli left the studio shortly after their on-air squabble during the March 30, 1991 program. I filled the remaining air time with unrelated material, omitted here. The original version of the March 30, 1991 program may be purchased on VHS from Bel Canto Society. The noises heard intermittently during the March 30, 1991 interview leaked into WKCR’s studio from an adjacent auditorium and were picked up by the mikes. There is no way of both eliminating these noises and preserving our discussion.

Special thanks to Steve Leopold for providing tapes of both programs. –S.Z.

“Opera Fanatic” had over 80 Celebrity Guests.

Below are some selected biographies.

Jerome Hines

According to Jerome Hines’s autobiography, This Is My Story, This Is My Song (1968), in 1954, when he was singing Boris at the Met, he concocted a publicity stunt: He would fall at the end, feign injury to the point that he couldn’t get up, be hospitalized–and get a headline. Throughout most of the book Jerry reports what an inner voice, which he believed to be God’s, said to him. According to the book the Lord came to him in a dream and told him that if Jerry pulled the stunt he’d get a headline but the Lord wouldn’t help him anymore. When at length Jerry declared, “All right, that publicity stunt is out,” the Lord said, “I will repay you for this.” The result: the Lord created the Cuban missile crisis and arranged for Jerry to sing at the Bolshoi and receive a message of peace from Khrushchev. (Khrushchev “proposed a toast to ‘peace and friendship between our countries.'”) When Jerry landed at Idlewild (now JFK) he was besieged by reporters and made front-page headlines worldwide.

I invited Jerry to tell the story on “Opera Fanatic.” Though he was a religious zealot he said our audience, which was secular, would think him a lunatic, so he begged off. He did have a large religious following that revered him, however, and he gave his own opera, I Am the Way, with himself as Jesus, 93 times. On “Opera Fanatic” he characterized himself as a street fighter and claimed to enjoy our on-air sparring. We ended up doing 12 radio shows together. Also we each sang on an Opera Fanatic’s Gala, at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse in 1995.

Born Jerome Albert Link Heinz, November 8, 1921, in Hollywood, California, he changed his surname to Hines at the suggestion of manager Sol Hurok, on account of anti-German sentiment. Jerry studied math and chemistry at the University of California at Los Angeles beginning in 1938. He studied voice with Gennaro Curci (Amelita Galli-Curci’s brother-in-law), later with Samuel Margolis and Rocco Pandiscio. Debuting, in 1941, at the San Francisco Opera, as Monterone in Rigoletto, he then sang there as Biterolf in Tannhäuser. He appeared in New Orleans, also with various American orchestras and came to the Met in 1946, where he made his debut as the Sergeant in Boris Godunov. In 1948 he sang the Met premiere of Peter Grimes and, in 1959, that of Macbeth. He appeared with the operas of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, also at the Colón of Buenos Aires as well as at Edinburgh, where he sang Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress, and Glyndebourne. In 1954 he appeared in Munich as Don Giovanni. He also sang in Paris, Vienna, Rome, with the Maggio musicale fiorentino and, in 1958-59, at La Scala. Beginning in 1958 he sang Gurnemanz, Marke and, in 1960–61, Wotan at Bayreuth.

Jerry’s career was based at the Met, where he sang 868 performances of 45 roles in 35 operas over 41 years. He was the Grand Inquisitor in the Don Carlo that inaugurated Bing’s reign as General Manager, in 1950, and appeared in a Met telecast of Don Carlo, as the Grand Inquisitor, in 1980. His repertory included Il barbiere di Siviglia and Gounod’s Méphistophélès. He told me that he found Sarastro uncongenially low, yet he performed the part 55 times at the Met, more frequently than anyone else there. He also performed Ramfis more than anyone else there, 104 times. He was bitter that the Met put him out to pasture, in 1987 (his last performance there was as Sparafucile, on January 24 of that year). His favorite part was Boris.

In 1952 he married soprano Lucia Evangelista, with whom he fathered four sons. Besides This Is My Story, This Is My Song his books include interviews on vocal technique, Great Singers on Great Singing: A Famous Opera Star Interviews 40 Famous Opera Singers on the Technique of Singing (1982) and a voice manual, The Four Voices of Man (1997). He recorded for RCA (Macbeth and Lohengrin), Decca (La favorita), Columbia (Messiah), CBS (Le Prophète, Bluebeard’s Castle), Cetra (Manon) and is heard on many live-performance recordings.

Jerry founded and headed Opera Music Theatre International, to train young singers, in New Jersey. OMTI flourished for a time, in part because of Jerry’s success in obtaining lavish state arts funding. But that success fostered charges that the state was playing favorites and that OMTI had received considerably more than its just share. State support was cut back severely. (A program Jerry and I did on the subject was transcribed by Michael Redmond and published in the Sunday Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ). Jerry was devoted to OMTI, but control was wrested from him, in a putsch by some board members.

During Jerry’s last years he took care of his wife, who succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), October 26, 2000. On January 30, 2003 he told me in a phone conversation, “I was greater than Pinza, Siepi, Christoff, Treigle, Neri and Pasero [with all of whom his career overlapped].” He mentioned that he had been suffering from diarrhea for six months and was going into Mt. Sinai Hospital, in Manhattan, the next day for some tests. On February 4 he died there.

Dodi Protero

Born in Toronto, Dodi Protero studied with Toti Dal Monte (herself a pupil of Barbara Marchisio) and Lorenz Fehenberger, among others. (As a teacher, however, Dodi says she does not restrict herself to any one technique.) She made her debut as the Second Boy in Il flauto magico at Naples’s San Carlo in 1956. Later she appeared at Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera, at the Massimo in Palermo, where she sang in the world premiere of Lizzi’s Pantea in 1956, at the Glyndebourne and Salzburg Festivals, in Toronto, Vancouver, Cologne and with many U.S. regional companies. Her extensive repertoire ranged from Parasha (Mavra) to Violetta; her specialty: Mozart. Her recordings: Nuri (Tiefland) (Epic, now on Philips), Sandrina (La finta giardiniera) (Epic) and Serpina (La serva padrona) (Philips). Vienna, City of My Dreams, an Austrian film, features her Susanna (Nozze). For Eurovision she appeared as Clarice (Haydn’s Il mondo della luna) and for North German Television, as Esmeralda (The Bartered Bride). She also performed in a series of opera and operetta telecasts on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At the time of our broadcast she was Director of Voice for OMTI. In December 2005 she said:

The Board of Education of the State of New Jersey funded OMTI lavishly during its first two years of existence. We told the state we didn’t want to spend all the money at one time, but they told us we had to or we wouldn’t be given as much the next year. After that, funding dried up. After Henry Lewis, William Vendice and Frank Corsaro had left, Jerry and Lucia gave money out of their own pockets. I stayed on teaching without salary for two years, but when the board did not want to pay even for the accompanists in my lessons, I left. The idea of OMTI was wonderful. I felt terrible about what happened.

Lucia had a horrible death. I think Jerry wanted to die after that. The joy of life had left him. They had a wonderful marriage. She didn’t regret having forsaken her career for her family.

I asked her about the fact that OMTI students had not wanted to study with Corelli.

Students were afraid he’d injure their voices with his mechanistic approach. The Corellis felt Jerry had betrayed Franco, although Jerry and I exhorted them to study with him. But Franco didn’t want to teach at OMTI any more after that.

I asked Dodi about Franco’s and Loretta’s birth dates. (For further information about them see “Franco Corelli: Some Missing Information,” in the booklet to D091, Corelli in Concert plus In-Depth Interviews.) She replied, “Buying a false birth certificate in Italy was very common. Dal Monte told me she bought one at considerable expense to take five years off her age.”

I also asked her about a topic that came up during the broadcast, whether or not the opera tradition in Canada was German or Italian. She said:

The most important figures in opera in Canada were Herman Geiger-Torel and Nicholas Goldschmidt. They started the Canadian Opera Company and many opera festivals. They presented Italian operas at first because they were able to sell them to the public, but the tradition was German.

Dodi Protero was born in Toronto, March 13, 1931, and died in New York City, of heart and lung failure, April 22, 2007.

Franco and Jerry

After the March 3, 1990 broadcast (their second together) Franco
declined to appear with Jerry, largely because he and Loretta felt he
shouldn’t share the spotlight. I did nine more broadcasts with Franco
(plus one on RAI, in Italy) and eight more with Jerry–separately.
Jerry turned up at our theater evenings but spoke from the audience,
not the stage. The Corellis’ good friend Licia Albanese wanted to
appear with us onstage. The Corellis nixed the idea, also that of
doing a Webcast together with Giangiacomo Guelfi.

The Corellis were right, in a way. Our audiences were obsessed with
him. At receptions following the theater evenings, middle-aged women
snatched threads from his jacket, within view of Loretta, while their
husbands waited discreetly in the background.