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Volume 18 Issue 7 - April 2013

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Wayne koestenbaum in his

Wayne koestenbaum in his seminal 1993 book, The Queen’sThroat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire, defines“diva” as “a woman opera singer of great fame and brilliance.” While themain focus of the book is the link between opera and homosexuality,Koestenbaum also gives illustrations of radical fandom and diva worship.My absolute favourite story in Koestenbaum’s book concerns the Englishsisters, Ida and Louise Cook, who developed fanatic attachments toAmelita Galli-Curci and Rosa Ponselle, both of whom they befriended.Meet Opera’sÜber Fans✒ P a u l a C i t r o nThe best part of the story is that the Cook sisters were instrumental insmuggling Jews out of Nazi territories during World War II. Yet ratherthan basking in their heroism, Ida, in her memoir, We Followed OurStars, lamented that their war-work “cost us Ponselle’s Donna Anna,Carmen, Luisa Miller and Africana. That was what mattered.”Soprano Wendy Nielsen, whose international career included 12 seasonsat the Met, is now a vocal consultant with the COC Ensemble, anda teacher at the University of Toronto. She describes fandom at the Met.What Nielsen and other opera singers did not like were the fans whoregaled them with their knowledge about whom else they heard singingthe role and how wonderful they were. Says Nielsen: “That’s not wantyou want to hear after your own performance. These show-offs collectnames and spout them like a laundry list. What an artist truly appreciatesis sincere words of how much a fan enjoyed the performance.”On the other hand, Nielsen speaks fondly of the “purple pen lady,”or the lovely gentleman who wanted to talk about aspects of the voice.Nielsen had coffee with him a few times. She also mentions the “inhouse” fans, namely, the members of the orchestra and their casual conversationsin the Met cafeteria about various singers, rating them againstthe greats of the past. Nielsen is amused that she still gets requests forautographed pictures in her retirement. They mostly come from Europe,and the requesters are usually scalp hunters, meaning they want toacquire as many signed pictures of opera singers as they can.Nielsen maintains that the Japanese are the most fanatic fans. She discoveredthis on a recital tour with pianist Robert Kortgaard. “I had littleprofile in that country,” she says. “I did have some commercialCDs but none available in Japan. Yet fans showedup with them to be signed. They had ordered them online.They even came with pirate CDs of performances, and Ihave no idea how they got them. The Japanese are the mostprepared and the most intense audience.”People in the business view fandom differently fromordinary folk. For example, Guillermo Silva-Marin, generaldirector of both VOICEBOX: Opera in Concert andToronto Operetta Theatre, sees the ideal fan as wantingto become a volunteer during performances. “The payoff,”he says, “is mingling with the artists and getting freetickets.” Silva-Marin confesses that when he was a starving student, hefell behind in his rent because he spent his money on tickets. He did gobackstage once to get the autograph of fellow Puerto Rican, Justino Diaz.Henry Ingram is an artists’ manager and a “reformed” tenor. Assomeone in the business, he sees himself as a non-fan, meaning, henever has done “fanny” things. He is, however, entranced by the operaworld and a passionate believer in live performance. As a teenager, hewas an usher at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre and saw the greatest singers inthe world when the Met toured there. Later he was a chorus memberin various opera companies. He then went to Germany where he establisheda career as a tenor. In short, Ingram was always around operastars so they were never awe-inspiring. “Rather than an opera fan, Idescribe myself as a music lover who enjoys the world of opera,” he says.Baritone Cameron McPhail and soprano Mireille Asselin are membersof the COC Ensemble Studio. McPhail is a fan of old line baritoneslike Robert Merrill, Leonard Warren and Giorgio Zancanaro. “If notfor YouTube, I’d never know these people,” he says. “They give meMozart’s “receiving line”: The shoot was art-directed by Opera Atelier coartisticdirector Marshall Pynkoski and photographed by Bruce Zinger. LukasMalkowski (Mozart) is an apprentice dancer with the Artists of Atelier Ballet,and will be onstage dancing in OA’s upcoming production of The Magic Flute.The children in the shoot are (from left to right): David Barretto, Gus Hickey,Shreya Prakash, Maxine Halliday and Kaitlyn and Jackson Weishar.8 | April 1 – May 7, 2013

inspiration. I track their careers and see what repertoire they weresinging at different ages.” And for Asselin: “Of course I’m a fan becauseopera is my passion. I’m now encountering singers I idolize like RussellBraun and Susan Graham which is a thrill. As I grow in my craft, I listenfor different things. When I was younger, I liked singers who werehigh, fast and loud. Now I look for colour like the way Simon Keenlysideuses his instrument.”Giuseppe Macina, retiring artistic director of Toronto Opera Repertoire,became a lifelong friend of Renata Tebaldi. His family was in theleather business, producing harnesses for carriages. One patron was thenoble Amari Cusa family, and Macina became friends with the son, Bernardo.He firstfell in love withTebaldi’s voicewhen he heardher on the radiosinging “Ritornavincitor” fromAida when he was eight years old. Shortly after,Macina was introduced to the soprano when theAmari Cusa family gave her a reception whenshe sang in Bari.The Macina family immigrated to Canada in1954. In 1955, Tebaldi made her Met debut. Shegave a recital in Toronto a year later. Macinasent her a box of roses with a note aboutmeeting her in Bari when he was a youngster.“I don’t want to know aboutsingers’ private lives.I just want to see opera”RENATA TEBALDI.After the recital, he went to the stage door, but Tebaldi’s dragon ladysecretary wasn’t letting anyone in. Says Macina: “Giuseppina, Tebaldi’smother, took pity on the 15-year-old boy and told the secretary tolet me in. My relationship with Tebaldi grew from there. We used totalk on the phone and I saw her in Milan whenever I visited Italy. We’ddiscuss her recordings. ” To this day, Macina remembers every aria onthe Massey Hall program.Joseph (Joe) So is a retired anthropology professor and a workingmusic writer. He admits to being a diva worshipper in his salad days,getting on singers’ lists to get backstage. He also wrote to singers headmired. In his day, So collected thousands of autographed pictures,and was part of a network buying pirate tapes. He always takes hiscamera to a recital and snaps the singer during the curtain call. To hiscredit, So gave ,000 towards the Four Seasons Centre. “Fandom,”he says, “is a serious pursuit.”John Gilks, systemic therapy product manager for Cancer CareOntario, is an opera blogger. His website is called operaramblings. “Iwas out of work for a while,” explains Gilks, “and I was concerned aboutnot writing, so I decided to write about opera. I started by reviewingDVDs, lunchtime concerts and student performances — things not gettingcovered by the mainstream press.” Inspired by Toronto Star musiccritic John Terauds getting dumped from his position, Gilks wrote aspoof on his blog about the garden writer being sent to review an opera.That blog made him famous in the opera community at large. “I’m nowin constant contact with other opera bloggers in North America andEurope,” he says. “We’re a little ecosystem of our own.”André Paradis, director of community information and trainingservices for Findhelp, follows voices. He had his first epiphany in hisnative Vancouver hearing a recording of Tiana Lemnitz singing “Achich fühl’s” from The Magic Flute conducted by Thomas Beecham. “Theemotion and passion of her singing started me on my love of opera,”he says. “Through her, I got it. I got opera.”Paradis writes to singers because he wants to hear their thoughtson the music. (Lemnitz once sent him a handmade Christmas card.)His vacations are planned around who is singing what where. His nexttrip will take him to Brussels, Paris and London. “I have a passion forthe voice,” he says, “and I follow a voice to hear the singer in the repertoirethat they have chosen.” Paradis also has an eye for new talent,and mentions Julia Lezhneva, Kate Royal and Lucy Crowe.Wayne Gooding, editor of Opera Canada magazine, is a collector ofopera paraphernalia. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill signedphotographs of opera stars. Gooding haunts antique shops and vintagebookstores. For example, he owns Beecham’s first edition copy of April 1 – May 7, 2013 | 9

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