There are a lot of qualifications to become an opera superstar. Great singing and acting, of course, top the list. And there are many we all love, admire, follow, and yes, even worship. But the best of the best, as far as I am concerned have that extra something – a likability factor.
My Dad watched the latest Jonas Kaufmann interview the other day, and we chatted about what makes JK special. (Dad saw him in cinema broadcasts: Lohengrin from La Scala and the Met Parsifal, and has the Wagner CD.) Of course JK sings super-well, he is very easy on the eyes, and he is a pretty good actor. But what my Dad commented on was JK’s intelligence, friendliness, and approach-ability. Dad said that he’d like to be friends with JK, to hang out, have a beer, and talk about stuff—opera and otherwise.
And I think that’s the magic element to super-superstardom, at least in the opera world. Sing good, act good, and be someone that people would want to be friends with. I think about who I’d like to hang out with: Jonas Kaufmann, Joyce DiDonato (duh), Thomas Hampson, Annette Dasch (after seeing some of her German TV clips), Beverly Sills (OK, that’s now impossible, but you know what I mean.) There are others of course, but these are singers who put themselves out there and let people know them as people.
There also are singers who put themselves out there, whom I would not like to hang out with. I won’t name names, but some of these singers come across as arrogant, unapproachable, and “I am a superstar, and don’t you forget it!” Whatever, I don’t feel like I want to have a beer with them...
I started writing this blog post about a year ago. I never finished it, because I couldn't find a way to wrap it up neatly. But I came across it when searching my files for the key word "Dad." Although I try not to go off topic in this blog, I do have to pause to talk about my Dad; in many ways, he is very on topic.
My Dad passed away last week, early in the morning on December 26, at the age of 91. Last week, he sang in his church choir for midnight mass on Christmas Eve; and, among other things, he heard his great-grandson play the violin on Christmas Day.
In addition to being the nicest man in the world (I'm not just saying that. Ask anyone who knows him!) my Dad had star quality and unending curiosity:
Star quality that drew everyone to him. Like JK, my Dad was likable, approachable, intelligent, and friendly (and nearly as handsome).
And curiosity that kept him exploring life, art, religion, theology, science, and music (including opera) throughout his entire life. He was working his way through one of those "Great Courses" DVD sets about the history of music. In our daily phone chats, he often shared some new-found (or brought back from memory) musical fact. Having sung in a madrigal group in his earlier adulthood, he was excited to learn more background of music he'd been singing for years. My Dad actually was excited about the origin of chant, and organum, how polyphony was developed, and the circumstances surrounding the creation of the first opera.
He and I shared a particular love of opera, and spent many evenings chatting on the phone (I've mentioned some of these debriefings in other posts) discussing the most recent Met in HD broadcast, a webcast from Brussels or Munich, or an opera DVD. He was particularly intrigued by Willy Decker's Traviata, and he watched the DVD several times before attending the Met in HD. I dare say he was one of the few folks in his retirement village who really "got" that production. And he wasn't content to just "get it" for himself; he made it his goal to bring his fellow opera-lovers on board.
Dad participated in local amateur opera productions back in the 70s. He did the father and father-like roles: Bartolo in Nozze, Krušina in The Bartered Bride, Dr. Grenville in Traviata, and one of the uncles in Gianni Schicchi, to name a few. He recently shared with his grandsons that he wished he'd done more opera. He was a bit shy back then, but now he felt ready to really step out there. Although he stepped out in only a few operas, he always stepped up in life.
Again, I am stuck for a tidy wrap-up for this blog post. But this time, I am not going to let that keep me from posting it. I guess I can wrap up by saying that I really miss my Dad, but I can't begrudge him the rest. He lived a long, full life, always following his curiosity and always with star quality! I love you, Dad!