November 10 (my birthday), 2014
After graduating from Baldwin-Wallace College (now Baldwin-Wallace University) 30 years ago, I had never stepped foot back onto campus to speak to students, present a masterclass, or even sing an alumni recital. This all changed recently thanks to an invitation from an old classmate (Nanette Canfield) who has run the School of Music/Conservatory as its Assistant Director for quite a few years now, as well as the intercession of a few faculty members and friends in the Cleveland area.
I spent two days on campus and was escorted through new buildings and newly renovated elder facilities. I could hardly believe my eyes, but would surely have expected some changes after three decades. I was thrilled beyond measure at the turn of every hallway corner, as well as experienced a few flashbacks regarding my struggles there as a student.
As I explained to the aspiring students in a Friday lecture, I was actually glad to have never been back until now. I felt that I hadn’t anything to say before this point, and also felt I had nothing to ‘give’ by way of offering advice–professionally, personally, or musically. I did, however, feel that I had something to say and give NOW in the academic year 2014/2015. After providing a full lecture on Friday, which included several probing questions from students; I tendered a Saturday masterclass in Gamble Auditorium featuring 8 of the finest young singers I could have ever hoped to hear at this august undergraduate institution. The class attracted the entire teaching team from the vocal wing of the university (which included some current working colleagues from my performance career), members of the community, plus early musical influences of mine from over 37 years ago in the Cleveland area. Needless to say, I was moved in large degree. I departed, being told that I was an ‘inspiration’ to these wonderful young students; and received similar follow-up responses once I got back to New York for rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera. The aspect of being a so-called inspiration is important because of what will now follow… so please read on.
I left Cleveland, Ohio and immediately came to my lovely apartment in New York City that I have had at Lincoln Center for well over a decade. We began rehearsing the next day for Die Meistersinger, which is one of the largest single-opera undertakings in the entire canon. I quickly moved from one end of the spectrum as the person who was DOING the inspiring–to becoming the one was now BEING inspired–by the entrance of the legendary James Levine into List Hall for music rehearsal. He is, and remains, the most celebrated Artistic Director, Music Director, Conductor, and all around Musician of our age.
The delight and absolute satisfaction with which he dispatches a musical rehearsal is beyond anything I have ever witnessed. I recognized this when I first began rehearsing for my debut in Das Rheingold with Maestro Levine at the Met quite some years ago; but in reality this love-fest began decades earlier when I first became aware of him as he conducted Met broadcasts that I viewed on PBS as a very young and dreamy-eyed voice student in high-school.
The ease with which he conducts, the language he uses when providing advice/instruction to the singers, the complete satisfaction that he exhibits while conducting, and his absolute respect for the musical score which he seems so privileged to conduct, makes one feel as if he is actually inside the score himself. It is hard to explain in words, but those of us who have been so honored to work with him know what I am trying to feebly express via the written word.
All I can really say, is that during the 6 hours of music rehearsal that we have had (2 separate 3 hour sessions), I forgot all of my problems, worries, and concerns both big and small. I simply wallowed in the greatness of the miraculous score of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, in which Maestro Levine seemed as a humble vessel who was–in the most simple (but clearly very complex) way–bringing it to life.
Being one who inspired at my Alma-Mater a week or so ago(???)… maybe.
Feeling exhilarated and inspired still, after well over 37 years in professional show-business…DEFINITELY!!!!