No great composer induces passion the way Richard Wagner does. Knowledgeable opera goers seem to be divided into warring camps, vigorously campaigning for and against the art of the egomaniac of Bayreuth. In 50 years of opera going I have endured harangues beyond number intended to convince reluctant audiences that Wagner’s music is great and that they should surrender to its greatness.
The music in Grollman’s life was music. He came to it gradually towards the end of high school via the one dollar recordings of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky issued under orchestral aliases; a final effort to milk a last profit from out of date pressings. The sound was ghastly, the performances problematical, but the music was there nonetheless. He didn’t listen to opera, more by accident than design.
‘Ella giammai m’amò’ (from Don Carlo) is the most moving and poignant aria that Verdi, or for that matter anyone except perhaps Mussorgsky, ever wrote for a bass. King Philip controls half the world, but his family and his church defy him. He’s made one of life’s greater mistakes – he’s married a much younger woman.
That was my seven year old son’s critique of Richard Tucker’s performance in Carmen; it was his first exposure to the great American tenor. Tucker had sung Don Jose in his customary style. Wonderful singing combined with ham (what my son meant by “noble”) acting. He had mastered every operatic cliché – fist on the breast, fist shaking, galumphing around the stage like Frankenstein’s monster. He could have run Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. When Tucker performed with Zinka Milanov, which was often, they could have cornered the world’s prosciutto market. But what voices! The rest didn’t matter.