An Orlando friend recently asked me to name the most memorably impressive “bravos” I ever received.
“Well,” I said, “one that surely almost swept me off my feet occurred in Austria one summer where b.w. and I had been engaged to operate a singing studio.” In the still-light summer evening we had just finished dinner, and were strolling back to the in-town quarters where we lived.
Suddenly a big car drove up beside us and screeched to a halt next to where we were walking. A man leapt of the car and ran toward the sidewalk straight at me. Without saying a word, he threw his arms around me and gave me a bear hug, as I yelled, “Hey! What’s going on?” Facing me he said, “Herr Roney, I am so happy to meet you in person at last!”
“Have we met somewhere before?” I asked. He continued in German, “Yes, when I was 16 I heard you sing Florestan in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ in Germany. Florestan is my all-time favorite opera role and you are the greatest Florestan I ever heard!”
Doing some quick math in my head figuring at the time when I had to have sung his Florestan must have been when I was somewhere in my 40s as I looked at this grown man now grasping my hand in his on the street.
When I recovered my shock at being grabbed, I managed to say, “Thank you! Singing the leading role in Beethoven’s only opera has been one of my greatest thrills as a singer. And the fact that you still remember my performance some 20 years later is the kind of thanks a singer treasures most.”
The next day during lunch with b.w., I thought about other outstanding “bravo moments” in my singing career — and found myself remembering Florence, Italy, at the opening of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in 1957 in the resurrection of Florentine Lugi Cherubini’s opera “Gli Abenceragi.” I had the honor of singing with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, and opposite the unforgettable Italian diva Anita Cerquetti. People came from all over Europe to hear this remarkable almost forgotten opera. The curtain calls afterwards went on until all of us soloists and the conductor had taken endless solo bows and then all stood in front the curtain until the applause finally stopped — bouquets littering the stage. What an evening!
I can recall another such tumultuous evening: One in Switzerland where Monserrat Caballe and I were forced, by extended “bisses,” to repeat our arias in “La Boheme.” The applause at the end of the evening lasted more than 30 minutes. We beckoned the entire cast to join in the onstage celebration in front of the curtain.
A similar operatic triumph was when Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig and I sang a bundle of performances of Strauss’ “Electra” together in the Paris Opera quite a few years ago.
I sang the title role in the 100th anniversary performance of the opera “Faust” in the Monte Carlo Opera, with French soprano Genevieve Moizan. I was the only non-French singer in the cast! What memories! I especially enjoyed meeting Prince Rainer and his beautiful wife, Princess Grace Kelly, who invited me for tea at the palace. She was to die in a tragic auto accident sometime later while riding in a car on the circuitous route down from the Trophèe des Alpes.
In a long life such as mine, I have been in many places I never though I would go, and have met people in many walks of life I never thought I would meet.
I sang a gala performance for the collected members of the Lègion d’Honneur at the Grand Thèatre in Bordeaux. Seated in the audience were General Charles DeGalle, Pablo Picasso, Jean-Paul Sartre, among many other notables.
I also enjoyed an evening on the yacht of Ari Onassis and his “songbird” Maria Callas.
If you have followed my “Play On!” column for a long time, you’ll remember the story of my marathon ping-pong match in Frankfurt with American writer Henry Miller.
And now I relish living in our Winter Park home with my b.w., and enjoying our many charming dear friends and neighbors. Life has never been better!