Of men and music

December 2, 2009


So Pau Gasol likes opera, and he doesn’t care who knows it. The Lakers star was invited the first time by his boss — and what can you say? But Gasol was hooked, as a lot of people are, and his acquaintance with fellow Spaniard Placido Domingo has added a personal dimension. The LA Times story about Gasol and Domingo is at THIS link.

I was telling someone the other night about Eleanor Gehrig’s account of how her husband — Lou Gehrig — became an opera buff. She wrote in one of her biographies of Gehrig that she convinced him to go with her on condition that it be kept a secret. In the 1930s, Gehrig had good reason to fear that he would be heckled mercilessly if the other players found out that he had been to the Met.

Eleanor picked the tragic Tristan und Isolde and gave Lou a thorough prepping beforehand. During the performance, she glanced over at him and found him totally absorbed, then with tears in his eyes, and finally “an emotional wreck.”


What Eleanor hadn’t anticipated was that her husband, who had spoken German before he spoke English, was listening to the opera in the original language — not filtered by a half-baked translation such as we are usually subjected to.

Gehrig didn’t only became a frequent visitor at the Met, Eleanor wrote, but she would often come home and find him lying on the floor of their apartment listening to an opera on the radio while he followed along in the libretto.

“I discovered that this was no automaton, no unfeeling giant,” Eleanor wrote. “A sensitive and even soft man who wept while I read him Anna Karenina ….”

I’m guessing the Babe never knew.


PLACIDO DOMINGOWe have attended several of the Metropolitan Opera’s live theater broadcasts — most recently “Aida” last Saturday. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Not an opera fan? That could be just the point. Seeing these operas on the big screen with cinematic camera shots is a different experience from the crow’s nest at the Met. For anyone who has been thinking of taking a first look at opera through this program, I strongly recommend “Carmen” on January 16. Buy early and show up at the theater an hour before the broadcast. These broadcasts all sell out.

ENRICO CARUSOThe next opera we’re going to see is “Turandot” on November 7, and we’re very interested in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” on February 6, both because we’ve never seen it and because Placido Domingo will appear in a baritone role. He sang it for the first time last week in Europe.

This business of a singer switching ranges is rare but not unheard of. Enrico Caruso, is should be no surprise to learn, could sing well in all three male voices and made a recording, which is still available, of “Vecchia Zimarra,” a basso aria from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme.” That aria is often overlooked — after all, the tenor doesn’t sing it — but it is touching, especially in the context of the story. Colline is about to sell his old coat to buy medicine for the dying Mimi.

Caricature of ANDRES de SEGUROLA drawn by ENRICO CARUSOWhat’s even more interesting than that recording is that Caruso once sang that aria during a performance in Philadelphia. The basso, Andres de Segurola, had complained earlier of a sore throat, and Caruso — who was singing Rodolfo — anticipated trouble. Sure enough, de Segurola signalled that he couldn’t sing “Vecchia Zimmara,” so Caruso sang it while the basso mouthed the words. The audience, for the most part, was unaware of what was occurring. That’s de Segurola at the left in a caricature drawn by Caruso.

There’s more about Enrico Caruso at this link:


The Times of London reports on Domingo’s debut as a baritone: