In March of ’82, I get a call from Fredda’s opera agent at 10 am. “Where’s La Fredda?” he asks. “Out grocery shopping,” says I. “Can you get her and drive down to the Met?” says Pietro. “What’s going on Peter?” I say. “There’s a Mezzo emergency at the Met. Mignon Dunn is supposed to sing the role of Laura to Domingo’s Enzo in La Gioconda in a few days at the premier, and she has a cold, and both covers are too sick to sing! I don’t even know if she knows the role, but if she can impress Jimmy with the aria today, this could be her chance.” You’ll notice that Roberto wasn’t the least bit worried about what would happen if Fredda actually got in not knowing the role. That’s because Fredda is a legendary musician who can sight read atonal music at performance level, and undoubtedly was quite capable of learning the role by heart overnight.
So, around the block I run, to Dan’s Supreme Supermarket, where I locate Fredda loading up on toilet paper. “Drop everything!” I yell, “We’re going to the Met!” We get home, Fredda puts on a dress, throws rollers in her hair, utters a benediction of thanks that she knew Laura’s big Aria by heart so she could concentrate on putting on make up, and, vocalizing in the car, off we go with me being the more nervous of the two. Half way down the West Side Highway, Fredda wonders: “Who will accompany me at the piano?” I told her not to concern herself, as the Metropolitan Opera Association has lots of pianists on the payroll. Pietro meets us at the entrance, and announces that Maestro Levine was on stage conducting a rehearsal, and that Joan Ingpen, second in command would hear Fredda in Liszt Hall, a lovely rehearsal space within the Met campus.
Ms. Ingpen, a Brit, was very cordial, and told Fredda that as soon as the accompanist arrived, we would start. I was outside, with my ear firmly planted in the crack between the two doors. As luck would have it, Eugene Kohn, the great conductor/coach/pianist, and life long friend to Fredda and me comes bopping in in his jeans and sneakers to Fredda’s delight. You see, the relationship between a singer and accompanist is so very crucial. If the singer knows that the pianist is skilled, the singer feels good. If the singer knows that the pianist is skilled, and believes in your talent, that is great. Eugene is all of that and more. He whispered to Fredda to just sing it to him, and without benefit of a musical score, of course, started the introduction.
Fredda killed it.
I almost fainted.
Ms. Ingpen told Pietro that she would give her a seven week cover contract for the run of the show, and more importantly said: “After that, we’ll give her a two year contract to cover for the big Verdi repertoire.
This was incredible news. Surely during those two years the brass would get to know Fredda as the brilliant Verdi Mezzo that she was, not to mention the handsome salary she would earn over the period.
However, first things first: The next morning was a Gioconda rehearsal, and Freddie had a role to learn! As is her way, after dinner, she sat up in bed with score in hand, and TV on. By 10:30, she was satisfied.
When Fredda got home from the rehearsal the next day, I was foaming at the mouth for details. She gave me a blow by blow of a wonderful experience capped off by her agent telling her that Placido whispered to him: “Who’s the handsome Mezzo with the gorgeous voice?” Not too shabby…
Opening night was wild. Miss Dunn didn’t know if she could sing or not, so they fitted Fredda with a dress, and hoped for the best. In the end she did sing, with Fredda in the wings the whole time, just in case. During the seven week run, Fredda was in house first cover, but never got to go on. Afterwards, Fredda asked her agent where was the two year contract. He told her not to worry, and that it would be forthcoming (I imagine you can sense where this is going). The crisis had passed, and the promise was forgotten. He should never have allowed her to go to that first rehearsal without the two year contract in his hand.
Fredda, as you can imagine, changed agents, and the new shmendrik (from Columbia Artists no less) distinguished himself by sending Freddie on an audition for the Chicago Lyric Opera—on the wrong day! I’ll never forget her face as I picked her up at La Guardia Airport. She was actually smiling! I was so upset to see that, and remember thinking: “Why isn’t she spitting mad at the agent and full of plans to somehow get revenge for his stupid blunder?” Then I realized that she was smiling because she was happy to see me.
How lucky am I to be married to this divine woman?