It was on January 12, 1959 that I happened to watch the Bell Telephone Hour; Tebaldi sang excerpts from MADAMA BUTTERFLY. I know the exact date because the performance has been released on video. This was not my first exposure to operatic singing; my parents had some classical LPs in their collection and there were snippets of Flagstad and Lily Pons on these. But nothing that moved me or drew me in like watching Tebaldi's Cio-Cio-San. That was the beginning.
My parents bought me my first 2-LP set of opera arias; I found out about the Saturday afternoon Met broadcasts; I subscribed to OPERA NEWS; I wrote fan letters to singers I heard on the radio. I used my tiny earnings from my paper route and working in my father's store to buy a few more LPs. I plastered a big bulletin board in my room with pictures of singers. My parents took me to my first opera at the Cincinnati Zoo. Then they took me to the Old Met. But it was a lonely obsession; I had no one to share it with.
In 1966 when the new Met opened, I was allowed (freshly out of high school) to make my first trip to NYC alone. I got a room at the Empire Hotel and timidly went across the street to Lincoln Center. There I found a group of people sitting outdoors along the North side of the Opera House. "Sign in and take a number," said a girl who was minding the line. Somewhere I still have my tag; I think I was number 57. I sat down and soon people started talking to me; I suppose to the many gay men the sight of a novice seventeen-year-old must have been tantalizing even though I was pretty ordinary looking. But people were so nice: what operas did I want to see? What singers did I like? After 5 years of having no one to talk about opera to, I thought I was in heaven. I shyly mentioned liking Gabriella Tucci, who I had seen at the Old Met. So the Tucci fans gathered and we talked about her.
I ended up not leaving the line for 3 days and 2 nights. The late summer air was comfortable; we slept (or stayed awake) on the pavement. We sang thru complete operas: we sang all of TOSCA and someone jumped into the (empty) fountain at the end. People gave me soda, a few of the girls brought home-made baked goods. Pizzas were ordered, and Chinese take-out. Someone smuggled out a recording of a rehearsal of FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN - a work most of us were totally unfamiliar with. I was devastated hearing the voice of Rysanek in that music for the first time. Franco Corelli served coffee one night; Franco Zeffirelli came out and got in someone's sleeping bag. News filtered out about the new productions that were being rehearsed; we discussed the death of Fritz Wunderlich who was supposed to have made his Met debut that season. There was a flurry of excitement when Leonie Rysanek was spotted at the far end of the Plaza. The crowd, now 1,000 strong, surged around her. In a panic, she gestured for security guards from the House to come to her aid. Once inside, she turned and waved to us.
Finally the box office opened; I got my tickets: TURANDOT, TRAVIATA, GIOCONDA, ANTONY & CLEOPATRA, RIGOLETTO. I had made my first friends in NYC; I had addresses and phone numbers and people who would send me tapes and get more tickets for me.
Grubby and ecstatic, I went back to the Empire. My pants were slipping down: I hadn't been eating. I took the bus back to Syracuse, asleep. My parents picked me up and took me home. I fell asleep in the bathtub.
Soon after, I was back in NYC for the performances I had bought. For some strange reason, I had also stopped by the New York State Theatre and bought a ticket for their Opening Night of Handel's GIULIO CESARE. Beverly Sills was singing Cleopatra. I had heard her already when NYCO toured to Syracuse and she sang Rosalinda in FLEDERMAUS. The CESARE was of course Beverly's "big bang". This was what I looked like during that summer of 1966; I loved this t-shirt and wore it literally every day until it wore out. My sweet Jeanette says I was "embedded in it."