Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Moment in Time: Marilyn Horne ... in PEOPLE Magazine?

Marilyn Horne circa mid-1980s.
I've not had a lot of time to read recently. And, by "read" we all know that I mean surfing my favorite blogs and social media outlets.

But a few days ago, I did find one thing of note. A People Magazine article from January of 1984: Marilyn Horne: 'The Greatest Singer in the World' Turns a Feisty 50 with a Met Premiere and a Controversial New Book.

You could have pushed me over with a feather ... no joke. I'm not sure which was more shocking: the fact that an opera singer was in People Magazine, or because of some of the content.

Get this: it turns out that this wasn't the first time Marilyn Horne appeared in People Magazine - she appeared 10 years earlier, also.

Well, I was certainly intrigued. Intrigued enough, in fact, that I have to share some of the 1984 article with you:
Marilyn Horne
By Michael Ryan
'The Greatest Singer in the World' Turns a Feisty 50 with a Met Premiere and a Controversial New Book

The pearl gray Cadillac courses through that flat section of East Texas that divides the culture capital of Austin from the capitalist culture of Houston. The fog is thick enough to julienne with a Cuisinart. The driver is approximating the speed limit closely enough to make a roadside state trooper yawn in boredom. In the front seat Nicola Zaccaria, silver-haired, courtly, in a double-breasted blazer and brass buttons, is drumming his fingers nervously. In the rear Marilyn Horne, black-haired, heavyset, in a long black dress with a Blackglama mink-to-die-for folded neatly at her feet, is unperturbed. At about this time she should be in Houston, 100 miles away, lighting the official city Christmas tree and preparing to give a concert at the Houston opera house. Instead, with the airports closed, she and Zaccaria, the former La Scala basso who is her companion, have hired a car. The concert is just 48 hours away and here is Jackie—as her friends call her—calmly trying to persuade the driver to find an air-conditioner setting somewhere between icebox and steam bath. Although Zaccaria grows increasingly tense as the minutes crawl by, the diva is philosophical. "In this business," she explains, "you get to the point where you can field almost any emergency that's thrown your way—onstage or off."

Fogged in, late, tired and too hot. Such is the life of "the greatest singer in the world," as Italy's respected Rossini Foundation called her in a citation two years ago. People who don't go to the opera know her through television shows such as
The Odd Couple, The Tonight Show and last month's Marilyn Horne's Great American Song-book on PBS. Her new autobiography has generated comment — and controversy — in the music world for its candid appraisals of well-known musicians. And with this week's premiere of Rinaldo, three days after she turns 50, Marilyn Horne will do what no other singer has done: bring the work of George Frederick Handel to New York's Metropolitan Opera House.
I know ... you're plotzing, aren't you? So was I.

I mean: I had no idea that Ms. Horne and Nicola Zaccaria were "companions". But wait, there's more:
In some ways the private life of the diva has had as many tragic convolutions as a Rossini opera. The man in her life today is the Greek-born Zaccaria, 60, for whom she fell "head over heels" while they were appearing together in a production of Mignon in Dallas 10 years ago. Zaccaria, famous for recordings with Maria Callas in the '50s and '60s, is now retired. He accompanies Horne on most of her trips; he is never far from her side, photographing her, taping her, worrying about details—and, although his English is really quite passable, talking to her mainly in Italian. "I learned fluent Italian from him," Horne says, smiling. "Now I even dream in Italian." In her book Horne admits that her 18-year-old daughter, Angela, dislikes Zaccaria. Despite that, and despite a melodramatic confrontation three years ago in which Zaccaria's estranged wife trailed Horne to a Venice street corner and implored — unsuccessfully — that the diva give her back her husband, the relationship has endured.
Now, if this article was published in 1984 ... and Horne met Zaccaria 10 years earlier ... that would have been around the same time that Ms Horne and her husband, conductor Henry Lewis split - although they were not legally divorced until 1979. Hmmm... interesting.

Well, they may have split up, but ...
... the figure of another man broods over Horne's life: her ex-husband, the conductor Henry Lewis. When Horne gave her American Song-book concert at Lincoln Center, Zaccaria was in Greece. It was Lewis, 51, and their daughter, Angela, who waited backstage with champagne to toast the diva. They speak of each other with a plangent affection. "She's a very, very important person in my life," he says. "There's a niche for her within my heart." Horne echoes him: "There's a deep friendship and a very deep love that will always be there." Lewis now lives in California, while Horne has apartments in New York and Venice. They still speak frequently; both are intensely devoted to [their daughter] Angela...
We obviously now know that Henry Lewis died in 1996 after battling lung-cancer. If you haven't already, please read my short profile of Henry Lewis.
As for Marilyn, her success is the more remarkable because she has achieved it as a mezzo-soprano. Most mezzo parts are either "trouser roles" — many of which were originally written for castrati — or roles in which the mezzo is an adjunct to a soprano. "To be a mezzo is to be an Avis in a Hertz world," Horne says with a chuckle. But Horne has tried harder, and succeeded, achieving greatness with a voice whose richness and technical perfection are matchless.
As Neocles in Rossini's Siege of Corinth
The good-humored Horne has many close friends in opera: Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Leontyne Price and Luciano Pavarotti among them. But, as she makes bluntly clear in her book, she has had run-ins with other legends of the opera. She flays the Berlin Philharmonic's Herbert von Karajan for allowing his booming orchestra to drown her out. "It was a tremendous disillusionment to work with him," she says. "I should have just walked out."

The Boston Opera's Sarah Caldwell fares no better: Horne denounces her as chronically unprepared and reports that Caldwell once arrived at a rehearsal and opened her score with a resounding crack of its spine — a sure sign, says Horne, that Caldwell had never read it. Beverly Sills is thoroughly pounded in the book as well. Horne's dislike of America's other beloved native-born diva began years ago at La Scala, when, Horne claims, she heard from her dresser that Sills and her press agent were removing photographs of Horne from a press packet. "Sometimes you've got to pull out those prima-donna guns, and I did it," Horne says. In the armor-plated costume of her role in
The Siege of Corinth, Horne barged into Sills's dressing room, confronted the singer and her press agent, and told the [agent]: "If the New York Times runs a picture and I'm not in it, I'll find you and smack you right in the face, you son of a bitch!"
A more recent photo of Ms. Horne.
I think that last story has to be one of my all-time-favorite opera related stories. Imagine little - but, stout - Marilyn Horne barging in a threatening an agent... marvelous.
Such conduct is unusual for a woman who is normally one of the most cheerful of performers. Her patience is remarkable, given her schedule: a concert or an opera about every three days, 50 weeks a year, in cities across the globe. "Singing is like being a baseball pitcher," she explains. "You can pitch every three or four days, but you've got to rest your arm. I have to take care of this little piece of gristle in my throat. I can sing one or two songs in between, but I can only do a recital or an opera every three or four days."...

... She has brought Stephen Foster to La Scala and Rossini to Tulsa. At her concerts across the world audiences explode with applause, and bravas ring down from the cheap seats to the orchestra. And when that approbation comes, an observer need only see the diva, like Jeanie in the song, radiant in gladness with a day-dawn smile, to know that the blood feuds and the bittersweet love affairs have receded into darkness, and Marilyn Horne, for just that instant, is the happiest woman on earth.
So, now I'm off to purchase Marilyn Horne: The Song Continueswhich is the updated (2004) version of her original autobiography from 1984, Marilyn Horne: My Life. Given what's in this article ... I can't wait.

Here's a little General Horne in action:

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