What does one get a Legend for her 75th birthday? Nothing seems appropriate, and yet if it comes from the heart, I suppose anything goes!
Sunday I had the immense honor of singing on the Gala Tribute to the GREAT, the ONE, the ONLY Marilyn Horne, and to say it was overwhelming is the understatement of the century. She was celebrating many things that day – the 15th Anniversary of her Song Foundation, her 75th “Diamond” birthday, and quite frankly, her being alive. Most people know that she was stricken with the same cancer that got the better of Luciano Pavarotti, and at nearly the same time – to have lost both would have been too much for the world to handle I dare say, so we have been blessed with her radiant presence a good while longer, thankfully. And in return New York City turned out to give her their hearts in a grand fashion.
The artist line-up was replete with young singers that have been encouraged and “reared” through her foundation and Music Academy of the West, singing beautiful songs so close to “Jackie’s” heart. A few friends showed up to pay tribute (Flick von Stade, Sam Ramey, Dimitri Horostovky, to name but a few) and everyone was thrilled to pay homage to this incredible life force that changed the landscape of opera in the 20th Century.
There is no denying that she blazed a far-reaching trail with her determination, bold repertoire choices and utter technical brilliance that still leaves an audience breathless and dazzled today – any young singer that doesn’t pore over her numerous recordings is an idiot. She marches to no one else’s drummer, she galvanizes colleagues and philanthropists alike, seduces audiences with her radiant smile, and laid a legato-strewn path of bel canto possibilities that continues to set the standard for those of us that follow her.
A simple “thank you” is not enough. She gave too much for that to suffice. Being in this career now for a few years and learning the ropes, I know that it could not have been an easy path for her. To be at the top, to give so generously from the throne, and to dedicate so much heart to her craft surely cost her a number of things in private, and yet she still gave, still seduced, and still conquered the hearts of so many – surely making their lives a bit brighter.
I think it was a real desire to pay her back that made Sunday at Carnegie Hall such an emotional day for me. I was asked to close the program with “Tanti Affetti” (my first public performance of that aria, I might add!) and to say I was nervous hardly does justice to the emotions galloping through me. Here was one of the supreme forces of nature that single-handedly brought “serious” Rossini back to the table, redefined bel canto possibilities, and as a result, today I get to open my mouth and sing those limpid, cascading, fiendishly tricky phrases for a new public. She has given the world the gift of music, the gift of JOY, enriching our lives and lifting us up to know there is something bigger than ourselves. How we all need that, indeed!
It was an immense honor to take part in the tribute to Jackie, one which will long stay in my memory, as this will:
*AP photo by Stephen Chernin