~ Author: Oberon
I saw Verdi's IL TROVATORE for the first time at the Cincinnati Zoo Opera in 1965. Incredibly, my parents took me to Cincinnati for a third consecutive summer, just so I could attend the opera. In the two preceding years, we'd seen RIGOLETTO (my first-ever live opera) and LA TRAVIATA (Licia Albanese's 100th Violetta). The 1965 trip was extended so that we could also see MANON with Adriana Maliponte in one of her earliest American appearances.
What's curious about my autographed program (above) is that I somehow managed not to get Irene Dalis's autograph. She was already a great favorite of mine thanks to the Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. She had given a thrilling Azucena that night, and I can't remember why I didn't get to meet her. But Ms. Arroyo, and Mssrs. Gismondo and Polakoff were very friendly. I recall that my father struck up a conversation with conductor Ottavio Ziino, who seemed to speak little English; somehow they communicated.
Martina Arroyo was just beginning to emerge as a Verdi soprano of note; she had sung her first Aidas at The Met earlier in 1965, and would go on to many Verdi triumphs in such roles as Elvira in ERNANI, Elisabetta in DON CARLO, Amelia in BALLO IN MASCHERA, and the two Leonoras. On this evening at Cincinnati, her rich sound, her agility, and her easy top notes made a vibrant impression. Someone asked her, after the show, about her costumes, and she replied: "They're Lucine Amara's!"
Mr. Gismondo (above) was a sturdy tenor of the upper-provincial class, with secure high notes; and he was good-looking to boot. His rabble-rousing "Di quella pira" was heartily cheered.
The notes I made in my opera diary the morning after - this being the 14th entry therein - are particularly enthusiastic about the baritone Abe Polakoff (above), who sang Count di Luna. I find that Mr. Polakoff has a YouTube channel that includes several rarities, including this Cincinnati TROVATORE in its entirety. To sample his singing, here's his PAGLIACCI Prologo, also from Cincinnati (1966). A few years later, I saw him a second time - as Rigoletto at the New York City Opera - and he again impressed.
Irwin Densen, who sang Ferrando in this TROVATORE, had sung Sparafucile in the 1963 RIGOLETTO at Cincinnati. He was a singer I was destined to see and hear many times in the ensuing years. In 1978, he was especially moving as the Old Doctor in a televised performance of Samuel Barber's VANESSA from the Spoleto Festival.
For all their fine qualities, neither Mr. Densen nor Mr. Polakoff ever sang at The Met, though the latter did sing in a few performances in the Met's summer series of operas-in-concert in the New York City parks in the early 1970s.
As to how I failed to meet Irene Dalis that evening, the mystery remains. But I met her many times during her future seasons at The Met, corresponded with her, and was on her Christmas card list.