Descobri a a voz de Elinor Ross por mero acaso, numa das minhas longas e frequentes deambulações pelo youtube. Descobri-a numa gravação da Norma ocorrida em 1967 em Berlin. Curiosamente num artigo da Opera News verifique que Scott Barnes, antes de fazer uma entrevista ao soprano, tinha também descoberto no youtube excertos dessa gravação. Aqui fica o artigo da Opera News e alguns vídeos do youtube com a Norma de Berlim que conta também com a presença de Mario del Mónaco.
About a week before I was to interview former Met soprano Elinor Ross, I was surfing YouTube and discovered that someone had just uploaded selections from a 1967 Berlin production of Norma, featuring Ross and Mario del Monaco. Granted, the black-and-white camerawork was nothing fancy, and the sets, costumes and acting were, to be kind, "of the period."
But the beautiful, cavernous, overtone-laden sound that came out of Ross was overwhelming. The dynamic and emotional range, from tenderness to ferocity, the clarity of coloratura and the sheer immensity and beauty of her voice amazed me. I had always considered Ross a utility singer — one that the Met could summon on a moment's notice, whose performances of Verdi and Puccini would satisfy if not delight the knowledgeable Met audience. The video proved that she was much, much more than that. And her life, as I was soon to discover, could easily have earned her a medal for endurance.
"Hi, darlin'," says Ross as she opens the door to let me in. "I have to warn you, I'm a talker!" Her apartment, with spectacular views of Manhattan, is painted a pale lemon yellow. Clearly, color is very important to her — not just in the furnishings and artwork she has chosen but in the way she dresses. She moves slowly, and there is a walker nearby, but neither the apartment nor the woman has the look of living in the past.
Born in Tampa, Florida, in 1930, Ross attended Syracuse University. She came to New York shortly thereafter, studying with William Herman, famous for being the teacher of Roberta Peters. She also studied with Stanley Sontag and coached with Leo Resnick. Her professional debut came in 1958 with Cincinnati Opera, as Leonora in Il Trovatore. She was soon performing with many U.S. companies, including San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. But the skill to do the work and the skill to get the work are very different things. Although she appears to be very outgoing and sure of herself, Ross claims to be quite shy. "I could never go into a crowd and push myself. I couldn't talk about myself to an agent or a manager. I was with Sol Hurok, but he said I needed experience, so he sent an agent with me to Italy. At Verona, I had the greatest response in the world. I had a bis [encore] every time I opened my mouth. But Leyla Gencer's boyfriend was running the whole operation, and she and I did the same roles. So when it was the season, she got the roles, and I didn't get called back. I filled in for her as Aida, and I had to bis both the arias. Amazing success, and I didn't go back!
"Tom Schippers took me to Scala to understudy Callas in Medea. I figured it was good experience, and I needed the money, so I did all the rehearsals, and she came back and canceled my performance. She paid off the whole orchestra, the chorus, even me! The whole house was dark, because she didn't want me to sing in her stead. We actually became friends, because I was this little nothing, and we spoke all the time. As a young singer, there was nothing to be done. I wanted to sing leading roles in leading houses, and I did."
Our conversation turns to the 1967 Norma preserved on that YouTube video. "My son had just said, 'Mom, it's too bad you don't have any videos out.' I remembered in Germany we were put on TV. We didn't sign anything or have very much notice. There were just big TV cameras at one performance. Well, my son e-mailed the theater in Berlin, and they said it was in the archives. Then three weeks later, all this stuff started appearing on YouTube. Someone just sent me a whole DVD. I thought it was with Cossotto, since I did a lot of Normas with Fiorenza, but it was a gal I don't really much remember [Giovanna Vighi]. I never kept score of anything I was doing. I was busy running around from here to there, and then of course the sicknesses. When I made my 1970 Scala debut in Cavalleria Rusticana, my husband [attorney Jerome Lewis] was dying. They told him not to come, that the plane's pressurized cabin would kill him. He came anyway but never got to see me at La Scala. I had to cancel my engagement with Vienna Staatsoper and become his cook and nurse. He was in an Italian hospital for six weeks, until I could bribe an airline to get him to the States."
Ross returned to New York on a Tuesday, and the following day, the Met called her manager, Herbert Barrett, asking her to make her debut that Saturday — June 6, 1970 — singing Turandot, a role she would sing sixteen times with the company. It was a daunting challenge, since she had just come from weeks of singing Santuzza, a different type of role centered in a different part of her voice. "The thing about Turandot is, you can either do it, or you can't," says Ross. "I had a big voice with lots of high notes, and I had done the role before. I got a costume fitting but no stage rehearsals. Pilar Lorengar was my Liù, and Corelli didn't come to either of my music rehearsals. My friends Nedda Casei and Shirley Love kept my husband on the phone from backstage during the performance and gave him the blow by blow. During the three questions, Corelli turned his back to the audience to face me and put his hand down his pants. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I didn't know where to look, or what was gonna happen. He brought a wet sponge out and put it in his mouth. He had wet sponges all over the stage!"
The public never knew that Ross's husband died following open-heart surgery (still in its experimental stages) shortly thereafter. Ross had to work and simply jumped right back in, singing Ballos and filling in for Régine Crespin in a string of Met Toscas with Carlo Bergonzi. "When I think of the things I did — I must have been crazy," she says. "But I had responsibilities — I had to pay for the household."
Following the death of her husband, Ross gave up the bulk of her international travel to be near her son. "He was going through a lot of things," Ross recalls. "His father and grandfather had died, he was a teenager, he was gay, and I wanted him to be proud of who he was, because that's the only 'you' you get to be in this lifetime. I did the things that I thought were right. I didn't get the career to where I thought it was going to go, but that's life. I started covering more at the Met. I never had rehearsals — I got thrown on, and every time was like a debut. That was tough. I loved doing Gioconda, but [Giuseppe] Patanè didn't like me, and I couldn't stand him. I like most people, but he struck a chord in me. Anyway, he walked out when he heard that I was replacing in that famous Trovatore."
The "famous" Trovatore, in 1978, involved more twists than most pulp fiction: Ross, fighting her weight, had put herself on the faddish water diet. A call came from the Met for a last-minute replacement as Leonora. She said no, as she hadn't sung the part in four years, had no energy and didn't know the cuts, which had all been opened up. The Met responded, "You'll never work here or anywhere again if you don't do this," so Ross's second husband, another attorney, named Aaron Diamond, accepted the job while she was out of the apartment running an errand. She appeared that night. Maestro Patanè did not.
"I took it as much as I could and kept on going and going, and then in 1979, during a [Met] performance of Aida, I couldn't understand why I felt so strange. I woke up the next day with Bell's Palsy. So that was my final opera performance. I couldn't open my mouth for a couple of years. My voice was there — I had just started working on Isolde — but I couldn't open one side of my mouth. And I thought I looked like a cyclops. Subsequently, I had to have a big operation, with muscles taken out of my neck and put into the front of my face. I kept singing, though. I could do concerts out of town and got a lot of gigs in Asia. For a while I had a second home in Hong Kong and Taiwan. My son went to school there and stayed. So if somebody else would pay the car fare, I'd sing over there, so I could see Sonny Boy. He was fluent in Chinese, so he would often come along and introduce me. My Chinese was so bad that when I got one word right, they'd applaud!"
In spite of her age and some physical infirmities, Ross stays on the go. "I'm off to Spain with three lady friends. I do therapy twice a week. I think if I didn't exercise, I wouldn't be where I am today — it's not much, but I wouldn't like to have to be dependent on a wheelchair. Who knows? I couldn't walk at all a year ago. It's so slow-going, and I get impatient. But I keep going. "
A lot of people want me to teach, but that would drive me crazy. And people don't really know who I am, so who's going to come to me for coaching, anyway? Today when you coach, they don't want you to touch the voice. But I love coaching singers on roles I've done. I'm exacting. I want them to sing a beautiful vocal line. You work a note at a time, but no one seems to have the time to do that anymore. I guess that's why they come and go so fast. People don't understand the big voices. It goes in and out of fashion, especially the dramatic dark voice. Big voices need to learn how to float notes and to work the coloratura. What made me happiest about listening to that '67 Norma was my agility. Because I worked so hard on that."
When Ross finds it difficult to believe that the public remembers her, I assure her that fans are usually for life. And what would she like to tell them? "Tell 'em I'm livin', baby — I'm breathin' out and in!"
SCOTT BARNES teaches masterclasses in Auditioning for Singers and Song Interpretation in New York City and abroad.