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Troyanos Talks: A World-Class Prima Donna Discusses Opera Today

Article # : 12579 

Section : THE ARTS
Issue Date : 6 / 1987  4,118 Words
Author : Gregory Speck

       Through the medium of television, the once esoteric and rarified world of grand opera has been lifted out of the exclusive realm of moneyed society and brought into the living rooms of middle America. With this new awareness of the most complete of art forms, a recognition of its leading performers has sprung up among audiences who twenty years ago might not have heard of Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, or even Birgit Nilsson. The contemporary prima donna has thus, through the telecast, achieved a kind of overnight celebrity formerly limited to the cognoscenti of the great cities and aficionados of classical music recordings.
        The ranks of the world-class prima donna are composed of perhaps fewer than a dozen divas, each of whom has acquired a devoted following, but only two or three of whom have attained the status of cult figures. Celebrated for her striking performances as Carmen as well as for her convincing portrayals of the "pants roles," Tatiana Troyanos has established herself not only as one of the most sought-after mezzo-sopranos in the world, but also as one of the very few American-born singers to have achieved international standing both for her singing and her dramatic ability. Her performances are consistently sold out; her schedule is planned four or five years in advance; and her star continues to rise. In 1987 alone, she has appeared in three different productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
        Troyanos has a reputation of being a high-keyed presence on stage as well as an exceedingly private person offstage. She is noted for her courage in tackling the most demanding roles in the repertoire of opera today. I met recently with Ms. Troyanos in her spacious Manhattan apartment for a long talk about her career and her recommendations for young people seeking to go into opera today.
        Gregory Speck: Much has already been written about your early life, but I would imagine that there must still be areas of your life in which the public would be interested.
        Tatiana Troyanos: What I find so incredible are some of the people I met while I was still just a child. Margaret and Bill See, for example. This last summer I spent a good deal of time together with them. They recalled to me something that happened while I was studying with them. They asked all the students what we wanted to be when we grew up. They tell me I looked up and said, at the ripe age of eight, "I want to be an opera singer." They were stunned, of course.
        Speck: I understand that your teacher, Hans Heinz, and your neighbor Lillie Levine more or less adopted you.
        Troyanos: Hans was the major influence in my life. His belief in me was total. Our work together built the foundation that was so essential to my career. I met Lillie Levine through a mutual friend in New York fourteen years ago. She has a beautiful apartment on Riverside Drive, with a piano, and I used to go there to practice. Now she is eighty-eight, and is an extraordinary person.
        Speck: Along the way I believe you worked at a number of different jobs before coming to your present career.
        Troyanos: That's right. When I was in high school I knew I had to learn something as a means of
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