Purebred Opera Stars and Their Canine Companions

Coming up on August 26 is National Dog Day. Anyone who owns a dog knows that they are the best companions, friends, and even listeners when no one else is around. They are loyal, dedicated, and are happy living their virtually simple lives of eating, sleeping, playing, and cuddling. However, some doggies lead more exciting lives, including activities such as traveling the world with their owners and getting to sniff foreign scents. Several furry little friends have accompanied their opera star owners across the world, as they need plenty of love and support for such a difficult career. Here are some singers who have taken their pets to work:

Renata Tebaldi and New II

Renata Tebaldi and her poodle (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/tebaldidog.jpg)

Renata Tebaldi and her poodle (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/tebaldidog.jpg)

New II was not only a traveling companion of Tebaldi, but also a star at the Met himself! On several occasions he would appear as the Marschellin’s dog in Der Rosenkavalier and take the spotlight along with Musetta in La Bohème. He also had his own set of fine vocal cords, warming up along with Tebaldi in her dressing room as she would sing and he would howl. One time, in fact, his singing was so loud that it disturbed Franco Corelli in the neighboring dressing room. Corelli busted into her dressing room half-naked demanding that the dog be silenced, but he continued to howl. The vocal world can be so competitive! (Source: http://www.fondazionerenatatebaldi.org/default.asp?id=1144)

Franco Corelli and Loris

Franco Corelli and his dog (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/corelliscan2.jpg)

Franco Corelli and his dog (Source: http://www.cs.princeton.edu/~san/corelliscan2.jpg)

Loris and Franco had quite a few adventures together. One of the greatest stories about them occurred in and around performances of Turandot. In 1961, while the Met was on tour in Chicago, Corelli’s dog fell very ill on the night before a performance of Turandot. Loris had seizures that were cured by a veterinarian, but she ended up hemorrhaging early the next morning. Corelli had to sing Calaf that same day. He insisted on canceling, but Rudolf Bing told him there was no backing out. Digging in his heels to avoid going on stage, Corelli repeatedly told those around him that he could not go on; he was too distraught to sing. Finally, his manager Merle Hubbard gave him some encouraging words by saying, “Franco, canto per il cane”, (Sing for the dog!), to which Corelli responded, “Provo!” (I’ll try). With those words, he sang that night. The next city on the Met’s tour was Detroit, and Corelli was sent there ahead of the rest of the company. He refused to leave the Detroit train station once they arrived before he spoke to Loris on the phone. Yes, you read that correctly, he wanted to speak to his dog on the phone. A little whimper from the other end of the line satisfied him, and he continued on with his performances and the tour. (Source: Franco Corelli by Rene Seghers, pages 221-224).

Frederica von Stade and Hannah

Frederica von Stade and her Westie © Terrence McCarthy 2014

Frederica von Stade and her Westie © Terrence McCarthy 2014

According to a recent interview with Ms. von Stade, Hannah was a 60th birthday present to her by her children. She takes her adorable Westie almost everywhere with her and said in the interview how wonderful company she can be. Coincidentally, she said that she took Hannah to the same doggy daycare to which conductor Patrick Summer’s takes his dog. Opera dogs are everywhere! (Source: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/interviews-musicians-artists/interviews-musicians-artists/a-delightful-chat-with-beloved-mezzo-frederica-von-stade.html)

Jennifer Larmore, Sophie, and Buffy

Jennifer Larmore with Sophie (left) and Buffy and her husband (right). © Audra Melton 2007 (left) and Ken Howard (right)

Jennifer Larmore with Sophie (left) and Buffy and her husband (right). © Audra Melton 2007 (left) and Ken Howard (right)

Ms. Larmore has owned two furry little friends, however, I do not know if she had them at the same time or separately. In a 2007 interview for the Divas Divulge, while she was singing in a concert with Music of the Baroque conducted by Jane Glover, she posed with her dog Sophie. In the interview, she answered the fun question “If you couldn’t sing what would you do?”, by saying she would be writing a series of children’s books about her dog’s musical adventures. If that response does not evoke Ms. Larmore’s warm and effervescent personality I do not know what does.

Sophie also starred, alongside Ms. Larmore, in The Barber of Seville at San Francisco Opera in 1996, acting as Dr. Bartolo’s pet. Initially, when Larmore arrived at the theater, she was told that no dogs were allowed inside, but an exception was made for Sophie by company director Lofti Mansouri. Thus, John del Carlo, singing Dr. Bartolo, carried Sophie around on stage as Larmore sang Rosina.

In a more recent 2015 interview, she posed with her adorable dog Buffy, saying in the interview that she was her most prized possession.

(Sources: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/10/style/chronicle-739413.html?ref=topics and http://www.chicagomag.com/core/pagetools.php?pageid=4225&url=%2FChicago-Magazine%2FApril-2007%2FThe-Divas-Divulge%2Findex.php&mode=print)

Deborah Voigt and Steinway

Deborah Voigt signing autographs at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. with Steinway by her side

Deborah Voigt signing autographs at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. with Steinway by her side

Steinway has been Ms. Voigt’s loyal Yorkshire Terrier companion for quite a long time now. He has traveled with her practically everywhere she has sung. When she was living in New York, she would regularly take Steinway on walks and to doggy socials in Central Park, according to a New York Times interview done while she was performing the role of Brünnhilde at the Met. Now, she resides in Fort Lee, NJ, where hopefully Steinway enjoys the suburbs. Steinway has also been taken to autograph sessions, greeting fans as they stick photos and pens in his mom’s face (as seen in the photo above). She also loves dressing him up in various outfits and costumes for social media, especially on Halloween. He is an older doggy now, making it more difficult for him to travel extensively. (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/nyregion/deborah-voigt-soprano-at-the-metropolitan-opera-unwinds-on-sundays.html?_r=0)

Luca Pisaroni, Lenny, and Tristan

Lenny and Tristan getting ready to go on another trip! © gbtimes

Lenny and Tristan getting ready to go on another trip! © gbtimes

Lenny (Golden Retriever) and Tristan (miniature dachshund) are nearly as famous as their opera star owner Luca Pisaroni. They even have their own Facebook page and blog! They travel everywhere with him and his wife Catherine, because according to Mr. Pisaroni, having them with him makes him feel like he has his family even on the road. He takes them to rehearsals and performances when he can, where they lounge in his dressing room with the door closed so they do not go out on stage.They are even smart enough to know when Pisaroni has a performance, as they always lie on the floor quietly and look at him when he is warming up or vocalizing. After shows, he and Catherine often walk the dogs, get fresh air, and talk about the performance or catch up. Traveling with pets may sound difficult, however, in Mr. Pisaroni’s opinion, it can be very easy if you are organized. “Dogs enjoy what they are used to. If you take them on your trips, then they know that traveling is part of their life”, Pisaroni stated. Tristan even had a chance to star in the Salzburg Festival’s most recent production of Le Nozze di Figaro, something his owner had always dreamed of. To summarize, he told gbtimes that he could not imagine life without his dogs, they simply make his life better. (Source: http://www.lucapisaroni.com/press/pressitem.php?id=42)

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Two Generations on Morningside Heights

In six days’ time, I will be moved into Andersen Hall at Manhattan School of Music in order to begin my studies as a vocal performance major. I will be living in New York City, the city that has brought me so many friends and opportunities and so much baseball and music over the last eighteen years. I’ve always dreamed of living in the Big Apple, even though my parents, who have both lived in New York in the past, have warned me of the loud noises and pungent odors that can rise from the street and prevent me from getting shut-eye. To me, the excitement trumps all, and that is why I am as anxious as ever to move into my dorm room.

My dad and me on Columbia's campus staring in the direction of MSM and the Columbia chemistry building. Photo credits: Susan Laney Spector

My dad and me on Columbia’s campus staring in the direction of MSM and the Columbia chemistry building. He is sporting a Manhattan School of Music shirt while I sport a Columbia polo. Photo credits: Susan Laney Spector

Specifically, I will be living in a cute corner on the West Side of Manhattan called Morningside Heights. Located between 110th Street (Cathedral Parkway) and 125th Street (the Southern point of Harlem), the neighborhood holds many of the city’s finest learning institutions: Manhattan School of Music, Columbia University, and Barnard College being some of the most renowned. As the area is populated largely by young college students, it is often a warm and bubbly place to be. Why do I know this? Yes, I did spend a lot of time walking around the neighborhood during my breaks at Manhattan School of Music Precollege, however, there is an even bigger reason for my knowledge of the area.

My father also attended college in Morningside Heights, spending a grand total of nine years at Columbia University obtaining a doctoral degree in Chemistry. From him, I have learned the ins and outs of Morningside Heights: Where to walk, where not to walk, where to eat, what businesses have replaced others, etc. For years, even before I had any idea what MSM was let alone that it is located in the very same neighborhood, my parents and I would walk around Columbia’s campus as he would point out where he used to live and attend class. I would gaze at the iconic copper green roofs, the lush green lawn, and the broad steps stacked up to Low Library with Butler Library glowing from across campus, and find it hard to believe that something so spacious and gorgeous could be found in the heart of New York City. He would share past stories as we turned the corner on 116th to Amsterdam Avenue after sauntering across campus. One funny story I always love to hear him tell is how a take-out place called “Ta-Kome Foods” was located directly across Broadway from the esteemed Columbia School of Journalism.

He introduced me to the best place to get pizza in the area: V & T, and where to waddle up the street afterwards to get the best desserts in town: The Hungarian Pastry Shop. According to Dr. Spector, the menus, tables, and atmosphere are exactly the same as when he was going to Columbia, with the exception of a rise in price.

My dad in his laboratory while he was obtaining his PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University

My dad in his laboratory while he was obtaining his PhD in Chemistry at Columbia University

Nine years, four years for his undergraduate degree and five for his graduate, sounds like a long time to be at one university, but he had his reasons. Even though he was accepted to Princeton for graduate school, which has possibly the most beautiful campus on the planet, he decided to stay in New York. Why? Because Columbia is only seven subway stops away from the Met. For nine years, he completed his studies during the day and took the 1 train down to the Met at night (or during the day for Saturday matinées), to see countless stars such as Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Montserrat Caballé, Marilyn Horne, Grace Bumbry, Shirley Verrett, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Jon Vickers, Sherrill Milnes, Kurt Moll, and Martti Talvela to name a few. He also would take the 7 train out to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play. He even went to a game on the first night he moved into Carman Hall at Columbia his freshman year. He knew that New York was the right place to be not only to go to school, but for great music, exemplary artists, and the Mets as well.

This coming school year, I am going to begin my own Morningside Heights adventure, living only six blocks north at 122nd and Broadway from where my dad started his. I have even started mine a bit early, as I have become the tour guide that my father has been for the past eighteen years in order to help my roommate find her way around. She is a classical pianist coming all the way from Shanghai, halfway across the world. I had the delight of seeing her face light up and her mouth gape wide open when we stumbled upon the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which she had never seen before. This colossal sanctuary has been under construction since the time my dad was in school, thus, forming another connection between his time in Morningside Heights and mine. I also had the opportunity to take my dad’s position and introduce my roommate to the Hungarian Pastry Shop, where we savored their various cakes and tarts with sides of cappuccinos and Viennese coffee. Even from our dorm room windows, we will be able to see iconic components of Morningside Heights such as Riverside Church and the tomb of the eighteenth President of the United States: Ulysses S. Grant. By knowing the neighborhood and now acting as a tour guide, I feel as if I’m passing on a family tradition.

Thanks to my dad, I now know Morningside Heights like the back of my hand. It is a charming neighborhood and truly one of my favorite parts of the city. I look forward to walking in his footsteps as I get on the 1 or 7 train; waddle up the street after a big meal at V & T; see a great artist live at the Met; watch a Mets game; or take in the beauty that is Morningside Heights.

A Review of Mahler 8 at the Shed

On Saturday night the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed erupted with Mahler’s Eighth Symphony. Stepping up to the plate for this colossal work was the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra and alumni under the baton of Andris Nelsons. The massive double chorus included the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, The Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) Chorus, and the American Boychoir. The soloists were sopranos Erin Wall, Christine Goerke, and Erin Morley as the Mater Gloriosa; Mihoko Fujimura and Jane Henshel as first and second altos, respectively; Klaus Florian Vogt, Matthias Goerne and Ain Anger.

Mahler Symphony No. 8 at the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed. © Hilary Scott 2015

Mahler Symphony No. 8 at the Tanglewood Koussevitsky Music Shed. © Hilary Scott 2015

Erin Wall was a powerful presence as the first soprano, nailing every one of her many high ‘C’s. It was fascinating watching her at the end of the first movement bend backwards, grab her music stand as if she was driving an 18-wheeler semi-trailer truck, and open her mouth like a lion to finish off on her C and proceeding B flat. Christine Goerke incorporated her dynamic vibrato to reach the top of her register and to achieve proper head resonance. Erin Morely was a beautiful Mater Gloriosa, floating on top of her line as she stood far above the stage in a nook near the ceiling of the stage right side. Mihoko Fujimura and Jane Henschel were fine Mulier Samaritanas and Maria Aegyptiacas, respectively. Klaus Florian Vogt sang the outrageous part of Doctor Marianus (Mahler hated tenors about as much as Strauss did), as if he was singing a Bach cantata. It was very delicate, light, and legato, unlike how many other heldentenors have sung it in the past. Matthias Goerne sang gorgeously, exhibiting his dark and rich tone for which he was praised in his Winterreise last season at Alice Tully Hall. Finally, Ain Anger sang the role of Pater Profondus with volume and intensity.

The chorus, unfortunately, did not sound as immense as I would have hoped. In this case that could have been at the hands of acoustics, however, there were several problems with blending throughout the night and several voices stuck out. There were also times when the chorus began separating from the orchestra and luckily found its way back. I also wish there could have been more intensity present in the second part, as the closing scene from Goethe’s Faust starts from nothing and grows throughout the duration of the movement. For an orchestra largely made up of students, I thought their playing was top notch. Their playing was hesitant at the beginning, but grew to be more comfortable by the end. The brass played out with confidence, with the exception of the trombones of which I would have loved to have heard more. The wind section did a terrific job taking on the terrifying beginning of the second part, playing in fifths and making entrances out of nowhere. They managed to balance very well with each other. The strings, like the chorus, had trouble blending, and the solos for the concertmaster could have had more emotion and warmth. I also missed the sensation of the hair on the back of my neck standing up when that first E flat chord comes crashing down on the keys of the organ.

Andris Nelsons conducted with such fluidity and agility. He brought out a lot of dynamic contrast and color as he flitted and floated on the podium.

Overall, a marvelous performance was given by all. Mahler 8 is a gargantuan work that takes quite a toll and effort from everyone involved. I missed the sensation of a shaking, crumbling concert hall as the piece came to a close, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

In the Wings: An App for Singers in the Air 

This post may veer a little off track for those who read this blog solely for opera. However, I wanted to introduce one of my other big interests, which, in a way, corresponds to how opera singers live their lives: Air travel. Ever since I was little I have loved planes and have been fascinated by carriers, types of planes, and the companies of Airbus and Boeing. My family and I even took a trip to Everett, Washington last year, as a side-trip from our vacation to Seattle, to see Boeing’s large building factory where their wide-bodied Boeing 747s, 767s, 777s, and 787s are assembled. (Fun fact: The Boeing Everett Factory is the largest building in the world by volume, measuring at 13,385,375 meters cubed, or 472,370,319 cubic feet). Imagine having an opera house that big? No beloved productions would have to go into storage or be incinerated!

Maria Callas getting off a TWA flight with her poodle at Idlewild Airport (present-day JFK) in 1958

Back to air travel: Air travel is a given necessity in the life of a modern-day singer. In the olden days, they took ships to travel to Europe or trains to get around the United States and elsewhere. It is much easier for a singer to have an international career today thanks to air travel, because it is far more convenient timewise and far more accessible than it used to be. Now, everyone flies!

This is what brings me to an app, for iPhone and iPad, that I would like to promote: Plane Finder. Plane Finder allows you to see any flight that is in the air, along with its carrier, aircraft, from where it is coming and where it is going, and other fun trivia.

The details of a flight from JFK to DXB (New York to Dubai)

The details of a flight from JFK to DXB (New York to Dubai)

By tapping on a plane, one can call up each of these three pages. The first page on the left, or the overview tells you the airline, aircraft, destination, altitude, speed, and other typical factors that would be displayed within flight for passengers. It also lists the flight number, so for those singers who wish to track their friends as they travel the world from opera house to opera house, it is made easy. Finally, by clicking on the plane pictured above, you can be taken to a gallery featuring various photos of the plane.

The second page tells you the distance that the plane has traveled as well as how far it has left to travel. It also lists when the flight should arrive and how long the flight itself lasts. (A flight from New York to Dubai is definitely not quick!).

The third page provides trivia on the specific plane being used for a given flight. For example: This is an Emirates Airbus A380-800, or the “double-decker” plane with two floors and about 800 seats. It tells how old the plane is, how many engines it has, for how long the plane has been flying, and other details. If you click on the history button, you can see where and how often that specific plane has flown over the past several months.

On the bottom left, you can click the playback button to go back in time and watch selected flights take off or land. On the bottom right, you can click the little funnel to filter certain planes or airlines. For example: You can create a filter specifically for Lufthansa 747s to narrow your view.

As a personal favorite, the most interesting plane I have ever seen on the app is the Boeing 747 Dreamlifter. It is a variation on the regular Boeing 747, in that it has the same iconic hump in the front, however, it also shows off an enormous hump in the back, making it look somewhat fat and awkward. It is used to carry parts for the relatively new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which is assembled differently from other aircraft. Only six Boeing Dreamlifters have been built and are flying today.

A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, © Scott Wright

A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter, © Scott Wright

Most of the time, we can rely on technology to be correct and one hundred percent accurate for us, but everyone makes mistakes: Even the app! Sometimes the Plane Finder app can make mistakes that are downright hilarious:


Top Left: A tiny Air Tahiti Nui plane flying over Washington. It would be impossible for a tiny jet like this to make the journey from Tahiti to Seattle

Top Right: A small China Eastern jet flying from Harlingen, Texas to Dallas…nowhere near Eastern China.

Bottom Left: An American Airlines flight flying from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) turning around for no reason.

Bottom Right: A small Libyan Airlines flight flying over South Dakota…far from North Africa.

For many, this app may sound like a complete waste of time. However, I think that for singers who are obligated to use air travel for their careers, the app is a way to make planes sound more fun and familiar. Download the Plane Finder app in the App Store! (What I have just written shows the features for the full version, which costs $3.99. There is also a free version with limited features). In addition, check out planefinder.net to watch planes on your laptop or desktop. Happy flying!