Monday, September 09, 2013


I thought many responses about Gheorghiu's comment were naive. I have never
known of a great career that did not occur because of LUCK. Period. I went
to school with Meryl Streep, co-wrote the play that got her (and me and my
collaborator, Mr. Durang) raves, and tell you that remarkable as she was,
and she was, she got very, very lucky, and kept getting lucky until she had
established herself in a killer business. She may have been the most
talented actor of our years at Yale, but she was NOT the most beautiful,
the sexiest, nor was she the only significant acting talent. She was not
naturally a camera actor. But a mega agent snapped her up, lobbied fiercely
on her behalf, she got intense exposure and then made the most of the (at
first) smaller parts that came her way in movies.

Caballe had been kicking around, not earning and she was worried about her
future. She scarcely took the job of covering Marilyn Horne seriously. She
probably learned Lucrezia Borgia in a week, as usual for her. But by the
end of the prologue she was on her way to massive stardom. No one could
have foreseen the cancellation, no one could have foreseen the hysterical
reaction she got, and she was snapped up immediately by RCA, which made a
HUGE investment in her. I can't imagine anyone today, no matter their
looks, having that instantaneous success -- that crazy and large audience
is gone, record companies with big, well funded classical departments are
gone, mass magazines and nationally distributed newspapers with influential
arts pages are gone, radio play and brick and mortar record stores that
play and play the new releases are gone, the newsworthiness of a
sensational debut is gone (I watched all three late news programs in Philly
rave about a certain "Jo-Anne Sutherland" who that night had made history
at her Met debut...) And the day following all three local dailies had
stories on her, and the Inquirer had a story and short interview that

Gheorghiu had a lovely, small voice at the Met in the 90's. For the Solti
conducted Traviata there were two other singers who were preferred and she
could easily have ended up as one of a number of gifted Romanian sopranos
getting modest attention. But the two rivals didn't work out, some
skeptical powers at the Garden agreed that she was their best option given
the time and that performance mythologized her (and is wonderful).

One can go on and on; The Bonynges lost another tenor and chose Pavarotti
for their big Australian tour because he was slightly taller than Joan
(rather than half her size or smaller like most Italian tenors) -- he was
sick for his Met debut and was let out of his contract after 2 Bohemes, was
not sensational in a handful of Lucias and Traviatas over the next few
years --- so had Mr. Bonynge not pushed for Daughter of the Regiment first
at CG then at the Met, where Pavarotti was very engaging and managed the
C's (most of the time) he would have been just a lovely sounding Italian
lyric in a world full of them --  He also got a huge record company behind
him, Decca, that may or may not have doctored his first LP for them (King
of the High C's) and the rest is history.

I don't know any exceptions. There have always been male and female
beauties in opera, the fat, and the homely still contrived to have great

And there will always be GREAT talents, male and female, fat or thin,
beauteous or unsightly who get nowhere. And that will be true because luck
can fail to materialize or vanish, and because the whole network of support
for opera and its artists, from record companies and newspapers and
magazines and radio stations and concert circuits and even movies
occasionally, has died, never to return.

This week was my week to be obsessed with Benjamin Britten. I am sure no
one cares but I have these idee fixes now and then, beats trying to widen
my coffin.

Benjamin Britten: THE BITTER

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