My first experience singing for the composer
of a work happened at the University of
Denver. It happened rather suddenly after it
was determined that-at last-a suitable
baritone had come to DU and a subsequent
call had apparently gone out to George
Antheil that a Premier of his one act opera,
Venus in Africa, could now be scheduled for
the Spring. In typical Music School fashion,
I was handed the score one day and told I
would be singing the leading role. I was
assigned a young, lanky pianist with long
fingers and we spent some hours negotiating
the very difficult “modernist” music written
by the “enfant terrible du jour.” (It was my
first singin of 5/8 and 7/8 bars.)
Mr. Antheil showed up for the dress and
smiled approvingly at Marilyn Winters and I,
as we sang, and then took several pix after
the last performance ... and never said a
word to us, even though the audience
embraced our endeavor with enthusiasm.
He also wrote the much lauded film scores
for The Pride and the Passion and The Agony
and the Ecstasy.
to California, after my nine months at DU
and returned to The Horn, in Santa Monica,
where I had been “discovered” a year before.
I was soon singing two or three sets, seven
nights a week as well as taking my turns on
the string bass and the bongos. During the
next year, I auditioned for a potential
musical, A Girl on a Couch, written by a
wealthy Psychiatrist Pair, dwelling in
upscale Pacific Palisades, with music by the
great orchestra arranger, Nelson Riddle. The
music was lovely and I had the good fortune
to spend some good time with Maestro Riddle.
(His son had recently died and it was tough
sledding for him.) Since he had spent so
much time arranging songs for Sinatra, I
sang his music in my slightly adapted
Sinatra style and he was pleased. I was
asked by the two Psych’s to help with the
dialogue, as their dialogue was more than a
stiff and totally lacking in humor. It
really had little to recommend it, except
for the music, so the show went nowhere. I
got a lovely attaché case for all my time
and work. Truth be told, I would have
preferred gas money ...
The next audition got me a show written by
the Big Band great, Jerry Gray. We had
several backers auditions, but the show
“needed work.” As with Nelson, I only got
smiles when I sang because my coach Carlos
Noble was teaching me that my job was not
vocal; my job was with the lyrics, to ...
communicate, to sing to the individuals in
my audience, as though those words were
being sung/said, by me for the very first
time! I took this concept right on up into
opera with good results.
After having made my debut with the New York
City Opera, my manager felt that it would be
a good thing for me to debut Norman Dello
Joio’s Lamentation of Saul, at the 92nd
Street YMCA. Since it had yet to be
performed, he lent me a score, I learned it
on my own, went back in and sang it for him
and, mindful of his few suggestions, sang it
the following Saturday night at the Y, to a
fully packed house of his fans. It went
well, he thanked me ... and he asked me for
There were other similar experiences I did
... for experience ... We all do it!
Later on down the pike, I was rewarded not
once, but twice in performances with Aaron
Copeland. The first was when he hired me to
sing Top in The Tender Land with the N Y
Philharmonic, with a recording the following
morning. As is my way, I arrived for our
first and only coaching/run-through and ...
the lovely fella was effusive in his praise.
The concert went well as did the recording.
It’s out there somewhere, I think.
A few years later, he asked me to sing a
concert with him at the Summer venue of the
Philadelphia Orchestra. (The only other time
I had sung with that august body was when I
had sung the baritone version of the
Maestro Copland had me do seven of his Old
American Songs. When I went upstate to his
beautiful home for a session ... he was
surprised that I was singing them from
memory, as most of in-concert, singers hold
the music. I told him my attention was going
to be solely on the faces of his audience
and animating the songs with my face, body,
arms and hands ... and that the book would
just get in the way! He liked it that’a way!
When I first met Richard Rodgers, it was for
the role of Lt Cable in South Pacific, a
ten- week run, seven nights a week, at the
Jones Beach outdoor theater. Cable had
always been done in major productions by a
“Broadway tenor, ” one who was usually, a
bit short on high voice. Apparently, he had
auditioned every Cable in New York and
wanted someone new. I made it through the
director Bill Hammerstein to Mr. Rodgers
because we had both been in the Navy ... and
he liked the bigger voice in the role.
At my private audition for Mr. Rodgers, I
sang Younger than Springtime with all the
high G’s-in the reprise as well-and he just
sat there and looked at me for a moment
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JULY 14 -
RUNNING THE REPERTOIRE GAMUT
WITH BUT ONE VOICE