Interview with Jerome Hines
BROADCAST: 1968 | DURATION: 00:35:41
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Studs Terkel Soni
Jerome Hines Spirito
Studs Terkel Spirito, Ahh, that's Mefisto-- that's old Mefisto--
Jerome Hines I don't want you to [unintelligable] for the tape because you use it.
Studs Terkel No, we're not going to use it. Our guest is Jerome Hines, the distinguished young American Basso who has scored all over the world. I thought perhaps as we were talking with Mr. Hines, who is passing through Chicago and will soon be having his opera, his own opera "Life of Christ performed in Metropolitan Opera House on April Seventh, I believe.
Studs Terkel You, yourself- "Saints and Sinners" is the epic album and we'll hear a variety of arias from "Saints and Sinners." You're doing the devil so often as well as an occasional saintly figure.
Studs Terkel So where do we begin as you, well Boito's, Mefistofeles, has been re- it's more recently that it's been performed-
Jerome Hines Well, it has never been done very extensively in this country; but it should be I believe. It's a stupendous work. It has much more scope to its libretto than the Faust has. The Faust has a more polished and refined score. But I must say that the prologue to Mefistofeles is practically unsurpassed. It's a fantastic piece of music and the piece we're gonna to play here, of course, the "Son lo Spirito" is an unusual piece because it's sometimes called "The Ballad of the Whistle" in which Mefistofeles at the end of each verse puts his fingers to his lips and whistles very loudly.
Studs Terkel You said the piece we're gonna play, this, I'm going to put a fast one on you. We have just heard it, you see.
Jerome Hines [laughter]
Studs Terkel I should point out that Jerome Hines is at my house right now and often; audience is now behind the scenes; often a recording is made say on a portable without the records being heard, the music being heard, so there are blank spots for us but not for you the audience listening.
Jerome Hines You should have warned me. [laughter]
Studs Terkel But the role of the- I think about you and Mefistofeles; there are two different interpretations.
Jerome Hines Yes, they are quite different.
Jerome Hines The Gounod is a typical French gentleman and very proper, very elegant; and in the Boito, Mefistofeles is the fallen god. And it's quite a different interpretation.
Studs Terkel Could we run on this just a minute because I know you're also interested in in church activities too and your own form of, your own pursuit of theology. That in the Boito, Mefistofeles, it is; he is a supernatural figure. He is a fallen someone from whom way up has taken a tremendous fall. Whereas in Gounod's, he's a courtly human; he's a courtly gentleman.
Jerome Hines Yes, well I mean this of course is just the question of his guise. In both cases he's supposed to have come from the same source. But, I think we find too that the the Gounod has been distorted considerably for the French public at that time. For example, in the original Goethe there was a song with a flea and that was a little bit disgusting for Mr. Gounod and his public so he changed it to the song of the golden calf and-
Studs Terkel I wasn't aware of that.
Studs Terkel You mean "The Song of the Flea" the the that Mussorgsky made into a song-
Jerome Hines Came from; from Goethe's Faust.
Studs Terkel Was in Goethe's Faust.
Jerome Hines In fact, Beethoven has a very beautiful setting of "The Song of the Flea", too, which I very often sing in concerts. And also, Gounod I think treated the subject a little more superficially in that he, when Mefistofeles came to Faust and made him the bargain; all Faust wanted was to become young again. And they made the bargain and so Faust sold his soul. In the Goethe, of course, Faust doesn't believe that the devil can give him what he was looking for and actually he's looking for that one moment in life to which he can say "[unintelligible], You are beautiful" and in fact Mefistofeles never does succeed in giving it to him in Goethe's "Faust". And Boito in fact, he goes the other extreme and er rather Catholicises or Christianizes the word even more. And he ends up with the salvation of Faust, actually, when the devil fails to give him what he's looking for he finds it was in God that he was seeking it in the first place.
Studs Terkel You're talking about [throat clearing]- we'll ask you about Jerome Hines himself. The the commment you made about the Catholicism of Faust leads into a next aria that's fantastic. I remember as a kid hearing Journet sing an old 78 and it's Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. And you know, "Piff! Paff!" that deals with the Catholic, Protestant--
Jerome Hines That's right. The aria, the, "Piff! Paff!" itself is a rather comic aria I understand. I have never studied the opera itself so I don't have too good an idea of the; the very story of the
Studs Terkel But it is Marcel's mockeries not I, I think-
Jerome Hines Yes, how he would, how he would, how he would fix up everybody if he got his hands on 'em. As I say I have never sung the opera itself, just the one aria so I really haven't made a study of it.
Studs Terkel It's interesting just how one thought leads to another.
Jerome Hines Yes.
Studs Terkel Suppose we hear this. This deals, of course, with the Huguenot-Catholic battle for the soul of man. And here's Marcel who was a Protestant; he's a Huguenot kidding, in in his own way I suppose, Catholic, his Catholic hosts.
Studs Terkel So in listening to "Piff! Paff!" again a memory comes back to me of bassos I heard as a kid, on recording we come to Jerome Hines himself. The idea of more and more it's the American singer now, is it not who was, you know, this was a rarity but now more recognized, you know.
Jerome Hines You know, the American singer got a tremendous opportunity, immediately, when the war was over because in Germany, particularly, that whole generation, frankly, of young people had been killed off in the war during the fighting. And so Germany had a tremendous dearth of male singers and opera singers as a whole. And Italy suffered quite heavily in the same fashion and the Americans just went flooding into Italy and Germany after the war because they had no opportunity operatically in this country at all. And they found a very great haven for experience and performing and it gave a great preeminence to the American singer on the world operatic scene.
Studs Terkel And how did you start? You, yourself Jerome
Jerome Hines Well, I started out in California studying with an Italian teacher; the brother-in-law of Galli-Curci. And I must say that it was a great blessing to me to have had this man behind me because there are many things involved. First of all, I began studying at 16. He was a very practical coach and he saw to it that by the time I was 20 years of age I knew 20 operas in the original languages. And then, he was a fine voice teacher. And furthermore, he had all the contacts in the business having been the only coach for Galli- Curci and had traveled with her all the time; had been a singer himself in the opera business. And so, by the time I was 18 he had me with a contract with a San Francisco Opera Company to sing some small roles. Because of his contacts they heard me and it worked out very well. I got off to a very quick early start in my career.
Jerome Hines Yes.
Studs Terkel You're singing with the San Franciso Opera.
Jerome Hines Right.
Studs Terkel On the subject of your teacher and 20 operas in the original language when you were 20. Is this, often we hear the comment that the singer today, the the contemporary opera singer has far less repertoire range then his antecedents, you know those who generations ago, is this true or is the opposite?
Jerome Hines Well, I suppose. Yes and no; it depends on the situation. For example, in the old days there were no other outlets for singers in the opera business; such as a big concert business or television or things of this sort. And also there was not a great deal of easy, quick transportation from city to city. So a singer would, let's say, become the leading bass of an opera company in this particular city. They would ha- he would have year-round employment in that city and he would have been expected to sing everything in the bass repertoire no matter what it might be. So he acquired, over a period of 30 years of career or 40 years, an enormous repertoire. And you'd find, very often, singers in those days who had in their repertoire over a 100 some operas; that they had sung actually. And at the same time, in those days, you would find the singer who stood out enough to begin to make an international career and would be heard of from other countries to the extent that they would travel across the ocean by boat or go by train; or I think Galli-Curti even went by by donkey up in into South America. And these people, who could travel a lot because they were extraordinary singers, specialized and sometimes the singer would make a whole career on just five operas. And they would travel all over the world but they were just so few in number. Nowadays, we can travel more easily across the road; just see a singer singing, let's say, on Tuesday in Hamburg and maybe on on Thursday or Friday singing with the Metropolitan dashing off somewhere else. But, there are many of us. Like myself, for example. I have sung over 60 roles but I don't think it's going to go extremely much higher than this because I I can select what things I want to sing now. There would be a tendency perhaps not; not to. Perhaps 50 years from now in this country when we'll have [maybe?] 40 or 50 opera companies running 11 months of the year; each one hiring its own little group and keeping them in that theater. The sit- the situation will reverse itself and they will begin to acquire bigger repertoires.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Jerome Hines Yes, yes. Then I would say that the singers who are not the, the, leading top singers would tend to have a great big repertoire from singing everything in their own company and the singers who became prominent and began to travel to other companies would just start specializing in certain operas and would begin to eliminate many things from the repertoire.
Studs Terkel I guess in the case of Jerome Hines, perhaps we can ask about the church singing in a moment; interest too. You, yourself then, why that be you would sing the Giovanni- and I'll ask about your Boris too in a moment; and what happened in Moscow. But a comic roles and serious powerful roles-
Jerome Hines Surely.
Studs Terkel But you're also funny Don Basilio and the barber you've done that too.
Jerome Hines Oh yes of course.
Studs Terkel So, the hero- set the scene. It's [unintelligible] here's where he's, he's going to spread the bad word; scandalize the name of-
Jerome Hines That's right. Use his secret weapon of slander.
Studs Terkel Oh before, before that, the question of acting. I mean more and more this is the case too isn't it? The singer being also a character; actor too.
Jerome Hines Yes. I was, I was very fortunate many years ago; in fact when I was 18 I became the baby member of what was called at the time the Los Angeles Opera Company. And, there was a man named Val Rosing, a Russian from Leningrad who had been the secretary to Trotsky during the Russian Revolution. Then he was: chased out, went to London, became the rage of England as a tenor and then produced operas with George Bernard Shaw, was for a time the general manager of Covent Garden; all sorts of things. He came to this country, founded the American opera company back in 1927 or 28 and had quite a career. He was really a tremendous genius as an actor and he and I had sort of a lifelong association. And practically every role that I studied, I studied with him and, in a sense, he finally told me that I ended up fulfilling his ambitions for him when I went to Moscow and Leningrad and sang where he had always wanted to sing as a young man. And so, it was a culmination of a dream for him; sort of vicariously.
Studs Terkel Suppose we hear Basilio first.
Studs Terkel Now I want to ask about the reaction to your Boris. [unidentified squeak] So, we have one of the comic figures. We had one of the comic figures in [unintelligible] Basilio. And again, the great, I suppose a lot of fun- basses have a lot of fun with this role, don't they?
Studs Terkel Could I ask? Oh, since we're talking about approach to roles, Don Giovanni; you've done the Don, which to describe Jerome Hines for those who haven't seen him as tall and lean and very stately looking. Indeed, you make an excellent Don. Now you would not do Leporello?
Jerome Hines I would be too tall for Leporello. First of all, he should not overshadow the Don Giovanni in size. So I feel that I am a little too tall for Don Giovanni too. That's one of the reasons why I don't do it anymore. I'm, I'm six-foot-six-and-a-half and I just can't picture Don Giovanni as being six-foot-six-and-a-half. Maybe six-foot-three, six-two; something like this, but it's a little too much. I think the trouble was that every time I turned around, no matter where I was, I would find myself with: a Don Ottavio who was about five-foot-four sometimes, a Zerlina who was always around five-foot or five-one and it was rather awkward from my height to--
Studs Terkel I'm always thinkin' if you had to do this, you know, W.C. Fields is director in the film The Bank Dick, remember-
Studs Terkel -where he had this very tall romantic lead and a very short heroine and he put her on a box-
Jerome Hines Yes.
Studs Terkel -and put him in a hole.
Jerome Hines That's what used to happen to me on the old television, oh, the old Firestone's shows. They used to always put the Soprano on the box when I sang duets.
Studs Terkel Did they do that when you were in the Firestone shows?
Jerome Hines Oh surely, surely.
Studs Terkel However, not too tall for Boris Godunov, who is any size. And well, what was the story of your Boris and what happened?
Jerome Hines Well, I went to Moscow to sing my first Boris. I had studied a year and a half preparing for the part and just before I left for Moscow I was informed by my agent, Mr. Jurak, that I wasn't going to do Boris with the Bolshoi because they had suddenly taken it out of the repertoire entirely. Because they were going to do a new production in the, in the Kremlin theatre; the new Kremlin theatre at that time. And so it was out of the repertoire; I couldn't do it with the Bolshoi and I was to go to sing a performance as a guest with the Novosibirsk Opera Company from Siberia which was touring to Moscow. Well, of course that shook me up quite badly because I had spent a year and a half preparing to do Boris in Moscow with the Bolshoi. I finally bought the thing only because I had no choice. It was nothing to be done. It was out of the repertoire. And then I got the news, within the next couple of weeks, that the leading bass of the Novosibirsk Opera Company had been electrocuted in his bathtub and killed. And so Novosibirsk canceled their tour to Moscow leaving me with no performance in Moscow. And then very soon after, the Bolshoi Opera announced that they would put Boris back in the repertoire for one performance just for me. It's quite a situation. And so, I arrived and did my first Boris. I got a little sneaky. I pulled a little innovation, which I've used ever since in the Boris, just to strengthen the finale a little bit; which it certainly doesn't need much strengthening; musically speaking. But, I've always been curious about the fact that Boris during the entire opera is always crying out to God to forgive him for this terrible sin of having murdered this child to gain the throne. And, it leaves one kind of wondering about Boris's final status when he finally- his last words as he's dying is, "God forgive me, forgive me" and he dies. However, we get a hint from the fact that the music itself is perfect peace and you have the feeling that B- that Boris has found peace with God in death. And I think this is Mussorgsky's intention. So, when I did the Boris in Moscow; after I said, [Prostite, Prostite] which means "Forgive me" and I'm supposed to fall down the stairs and die, I suddenly gasp and with a smile on my face said [O bozhe] "Oh my God, thank you!" And then, I fell down the stairs. And the effect, immediately, was that the Russian audience broke a tradition that has been since the opera was first performed. That, they never applaud until the minute-long-finale is over. But we got a big cheering ovation the moment I said [O bozhe] and fell down the stairs. And so, encouraged by this after the opera was over, I went to a reception; met Mr. Melik-Pashayev the leading conductor at that time who has now departed, and I guess I'd rather put him on the spot in front of some of the reporters and people standing around and said, "What did you think of my innovation?" And he looked at me and thought it over a moment and then very wisely said, "I think it was in perfect accord with the composer's wishes." Well, a month passed and the Bolshoi invited me to 'please come back and do an extra performance of Boris' because of the success of the first one. And I managed to get a release from the Metropolitan Opera; because I was due back a week sooner than I should have been. And, I came back to do the Boris. And on the morning of the performance, President Kennedy, over in Washington, announced the blockade of Cuba. And so, it was announced to the Russian public an hour before the performance which meant I would have a very hostile audience. And a half-an-hour before curtain time, I was informed that Premier Khrushchev was coming to the performance. And in fact, when I made my first appearance for this little short three-minute appearance of the coronation scene. When you finish that, you come out and expect two curtain calls at the most. It's just a little taste of what's coming, you know. I walked out and to my surprise the whole audience stood to their feet; the standing ovation. Well, I found out afterwards what had happened. My wife came running back and said, "Why didn't you acknowledge Mr. Khrushchev?" I said, " Well I can't find him. Where is he?" She says, "He was the one that stood up and made the audience stand up and give you a standing ovation." They didn't know what to do whether to boo me or what. So, he stood up on his feet and made everybody get up. And so I said, "All right, I will acknowledge his presence when the next, next act is over. I hope he remains." And my, Mr. Jurak's representative in Moscow was there and he says, "I don't think he'll remain because he never does stay beyond one Act because he's a sick man." So I said, "Well I hope he won't be offended thinking I've done this on purpose." So I said to my wife, "Where is he?" She says, "On the box on the left-hand side." So, I came out in the second Act and looked at the box and it was empty. So, somewhat disappointed I went ahead and finished the act; took my bows and came off. Now my wife came running back in hysterics. She says, "What are you trying do? Start World War number three?" She says, "You want him to push the button and, poof, no more world?" I says, "He's gone home." She says, "No he's on" I said, "What side?" She says, "Not on your left, on my left." [laughter] Stage right.
Studs Terkel So what happened? This is a great suspense story.
Jerome Hines So, I said, "Good heavens if this man thinks that I'm angry over Cuba and refused to acknowledge his presence after he gave me a standing ovation," I said, "He's going to be very upset and this won't help international situation one bit." So, I called the stage director and ask her if she would please send somebody out to his box and ask him not to go home but to remain to the end of the opera when I would give him an acknowledgment of his presence; there was an oversight. No sir! She wouldn't go near that box. She wouldn't send anybody. They were in a panic. [throat clearing] So, I literally had just to sit it out and wait in suspense to see what would happen. And, he did remain to the very end. So, I came out with my final curtain call. He really was up on his feet again; got the audience up on their feet for a standing ovation again. So I walked over to the box and stood about three feet from him and gave him a dignified bow and went back. Then, I was immediately dragged backstage and told that Mr. Khrushchev had arranged a big reception for me in a private room and that; please hurry, dashed in with my wife and found, found him there with, with Mikoyan and the president of the Romanian Republic and about 25 other dignitaries, some of whom may have been the present government, I don't know, because I didn't know them at the time. And, Mr. Khrushchev made small talk for a half-an-hour of all sorts of pleasant things and finally ended it up by making a toast to peace and friendship between our countries in a very pointed fashion; indicating that this was the purpose of the whole meeting because he knew that I would be back in New York the next night and that would be the night before the Americans would stop the first Russian ship. It was his way of doing things. He didn't want to go through political channels to back down. So, he used me. And so, my wife and I arrived in New York the next night and we were of course besieged and swarmed by reporters. We spent two hours at the airport explaining why we thought there would not be a war the next morning and that was the upshot of the story. In a sense, my wife and I were made unofficial ambassadors to come back and say there's no war.
Studs Terkel That
Jerome Hines Oh, quite an experience.
Studs Terkel Your Boris, that must have- your Boris had many dimensions.
Jerome Hines That was pretty good timing.
Studs Terkel Well, that was incredible. So, I suppose talking about Russian reaction to the performers and artists-
Jerome Hines Well, going through the rest of the Soviet Union I was in the, of course the, enviable position of being a bass; for which the Russians adore. Because I suppose the the one great international figure that the Russians exported in the Opera field was Chaliapin. So they adore his memory even though he was strongly anti-communist. In fact, Mr. Khrushchev made quite a little speech on that when I mentioned something about Chaliapin's bust up in our foyer at the Met. He blew up and said, "Well, unfortunately Mr. Chaliapin's a stupid man and did not comprehend the revolution" and launched into a whole big tirade. And when he got through, I thought he was gonna make a toast to the Russian Revolution; which would have put me in an embarrassing position. But instead, he stopped with his glass in his hand and looked at me and says, "Of course you realize, this is just propaganda." [laughter] But, every
Studs Terkel He had a sense of humor."
Jerome Hines Yes he did. So, every place I went I was doing Chaliapin's repertoire. I was doing either Boris, Faust or the Barber of Seville and it caused a great deal of excitement. We even had, they even had to call the police in Kyiv when they had a riot from the students who couldn't get in and were angry about it. And well, it just went this way the whole tour. It was very exciting.
Studs Terkel It sounds like a memorable experience.
Jerome Hines And of course, I made a second trip in '65 and planning a third one now if we can ever get this cultural exchange untangled around the Vietnam War.
Studs Terkel It's funny how, how art
Studs Terkel -and you can't separate
Studs Terkel So we come to art and pol- I think we ought to hear Simon Boccanegra. You think about art and politics, here was a great man. Apparently he was a real; according to [Golby] who was a great student of Verdi, that Boccanegra was quite a remarkable man.
Studs Terkel He worked for- How? Did you do this when you, when you do it, when you attack a certain role? Study the--
Jerome Hines Yes. I try to figure out in advance what is the important approach because the approach should not be the same to every opera. For example, with Boris Godunov my first approach was psychoanalysis. So, I went to a bunch of psychologists and psychiatrists and got their opinions. And of course, I found that they completely disagreed on everything. And I wrote an article on it, in fact, which was published by Musical America called "The Three Faces of Boris." And so, everybody thought from then on that I would approach every opera psychoanalyzing it which is absolutely false. An opera like Don Carlos, for example, should be approached I believe from a historical point of view. And yet when you do so, you bump your nose because you find that Verdi's picture of Philippe is not historical at all. And an opera like Don Giovanni, should be studied, instead, in terms of the day in which the opera was written and its purposes and its motivations and things of this sort. And every opera has its own unique approach. I wouldn't study Goethe's Faust, for example, to do Gounod but I would study Goethe's Faust to do Mefistofoles. And, I think one of the important things is to get back and try to understand the composer's intentions. And sometimes, he himself didn't understand his own intentions. You have to understand the composer too. And something about his personal life can give you, Boris Godunov, for example, again with the psychological end. Mussorgsky, apparently, was a man with some very serious psychological problems and once he actually said, "I completely identify myself with Boris Godunov." In fact the rumor still persists in the Soviet Union and among Russians who were in this country from the old times that Mussorgsky, at one time, was arraigned on a murder charge and was finally acquitted of it but was actually tried for this as a young man. I don't know if there's any truth in this but the rumor does persist in
Studs Terkel So, therefore here's this slight touch that, perhaps, Mussorgsky might be psychologically autobiographical.
Jerome Hines Right. That's right. And certainly no opera that I know-
Studs Terkel A study in conscious.
Jerome Hines No opera I know has ever touched so deeply upon the human reality and human emotion as Boris does. So there was something extraordinary in this work.
Studs Terkel Since we're dealing with them, we're about, I'm about to say Boccanegra but let's sort of jump by Verdi and go to Carlo because that wonderful soliloquy-
Studs Terkel -that he has here. Why don't you set the scene? Here's married to young Elizabeth and-
Jerome Hines Yes, I think this is probably the most complicated-
Studs Terkel Philippe
Jerome Hines This is the most complicated act of opera of anything I know. Here is a man; he is the, the emperor of a great kingdom. He has been aided and, of course, abetted by the Inquisition. In a sense he's under the Inquisition's thumb and yet in the same sense he is a tremendously powerful man who rankles against it. Up to this time, he has considered himself a complete devout Catholic but he's finding himself in trouble. There's a man named Rodrigo who has presented to him the cry for freedom for Flanders and claims that the country is just being destroyed by butchers. And that, he makes a terrible picture of the truth of this poor country. And he asks Philippe to give them freedom. And his honesty and openness attracts Philippe tremendously to the point where Philippe realizes here is a man that he can trust, even though he can't agree with him politically, but he can trust this man. So, he grabs this fellow and says, "Look, I want you to do a special thing for me. I believe that my wife is in love with my son and I want you to, you're free to escort the queen anytime you want and I want you to look into these hearts and find out what's going on; this madness in their hearts." He suspects, then, his wife is unfaithful; which she is not, although, she had been once promised to his son to marry and then he took, took her for political reasons. And then, his son publicly takes the side of Rodrigo politically and openly challeng- challenges his father in public demanding the freedom of Flanders and asks his father to give Flanders to him as a regency and draws his sword on his father; finally, in anger and his father has to have him thrown in prison. And now when the soliloquy comes, here is this king. He's torn by the following things: his loyalty for this man Roderigo, and yet the Inquisitor is gonna to come in in a few moments and demand this man's life; his loyalty to his son as flesh and blood and yet his hatred of him as a rival; his love for this young girl and yet his fear that she's betrayed him. All of these things are wrapped into this one great aria. No, she never loved me and the king only loses his scepter, but, but the man will lose his honor.
Studs Terkel God let me sleep.
Jerome Hines Yes.
Studs Terkel Here again, a study in so many things. In the case of Boris, a study in guilty conscience. Here's a study in so many conflict, conflicting emotions in one man. So, you really, when you undertake a role like Philippe in Don Carlos, or or Boris, you it's a, you really have to dig into this guy-
Jerome Hines Oh, you have to dig in; believe me. Now the Don Carlos, you just have, it's it's sort of a free for all in Don Carlos, after you've studied all you can study, because Philippe originally was a very cold individual. He never showed emotion in public. He never made a decision in anger. And if somebody did something serious or dreadful, he would face it very coldly and very quietly and would not, nothing would happen till about 24 hours later. And then of course, the retribution would come swift as death. He was a very peculiar man. He didn't like to talk by; to communicate by speaking even to his own secretary. He used to write his secretary notes and everybody dreaded the man because they never knew what was coming from him next. Now in Verdi's production, instead, he's a very emotional man. And when his son confronts him in public, he gets wild and calls upon his, his guards to, to uphold the throne and he finally draws the sword back on his son. All of these things, which would've been much more typical of his father who had, had a real Latin temperament; but he himself being part Flemish himself had a cool temperament. So, it's a problem because you play him in the authentic fashion the way it was historically, you get smacked because you're not doing it in the Italian tradition and if you do it the Italian tradition then it is not historically sound.
Studs Terkel Did you ever play in Parma?
Jerome Hines Fortunately, not yet. [loud laughter] I'm getting closer. I'm playing in Torino in about a month and a half from now.
Studs Terkel You're well-loved, they'll probably love you in Parma. That's the thing there rough customers,
Jerome Hines Yes they are. Yes they are. Some of my colleagues have had some rough times.
Studs Terkel Ah, Cornell MacNeil?
Jerome Hines Yes. Well, I think he gave them just as rough a time as they gave him, which; he stood up for his rights. [laughter]
Studs Terkel We're talking to Jerome Hines, the distinguished American basso. Thus far we're talking about roles in operas. And, Norm Pelligrini our program director said "You be sure that you lead him into the Messiah", cause you the reco- what you do a a passage, an aria from that that's he thinks quite fantastic. Would you mind setting the? Because you're involved, also, naturally, with religious life and music, so.
Jerome Hines Well, this is of course, is a superb work. I I stand amazed when I look at it because I remember just about a year or two ago, I went through a book of Handel arias. And, I suppose these were lesser known arias that hadn't been published because, frankly, they just weren't worth much. I went through, I couldn't find one aria that was worth singing and then I turned around and listened to a Messiah from beginning to end in which every note just comes out as perfection. It's just an incredible thing and I truly believe, as he himself claimed, that this man was fantastically inspired; and of course we know how he worked on it day and night for a couple of weeks without stopping and says that he even had a vision of seeing God the Father and all of his angels and everything else. And he, but this man, something penetrated into this man's work. But then you see other works that were not inspired in this religious fashion, like the the Largo, which is one of the most supreme, sublime pieces of music ever written. And, of course, the, the message, the message of the work is is supreme and sublime. It has to do, of course, with Paul's works at the end when he's thinking of the Resurrection at the Last Day and so forth. It has a sublime message and the music- but the music is the thing that catches me the most of all and that great "Hallelujah" chorus. The first time I ever sang it in public, when that whole audience stood up in the tradition of standing on their feet and I couldn't help thinking of that phrase when it says; in the Bible when it says, that, "And every knee", "and every knee shall bow" to Him at the last day. And, it's a superb work. And to me, it's just sort of a flawless perfection; both in text and in the music.
Studs Terkel We may hear this aria. This specifically, which one, this?
Jerome Hines Which one are you playing?
Studs Terkel Well, I'm asking you. There's one, I'm trying to figure out what Norm had in mind because there is one that particularly hit him.
Jerome Hines Is it "The Trumpet Shall Sound"? That's probably the one. That, I must say is probably one of the most difficult arias I ever sang in my life. It's the most fantastic thing. It's just, you have to be in just top form. If your good is good; just give it a quantity of sound. Now, I realise that an oratorio singer might not find it as difficult because an oratorio singer sings a much more narrow line of singing. I sing in a Verdi type of singing with; with a big broad dark line. And, I'm on the heavier side as a bass not on the half-baritone side; as many of the oratorio singers are more of a bass-baritone. And I'm a pretty heavy basso cantante and it's a real challenge to sing the aria. And fortunately, I was I felt that I was in very good shape the day I sang it and I had a very bombastic feeling about it vocally. But, the message I think is so tremendous and I really; I really felt in the mood when I sang it.
Studs Terkel Well, as we hear this this magnificent aria from the Messiah and Jerome Hines sing, leads into your own thoughts and you, yourself, your special, aside from your singing and opera and oratorio, your special interest is church music. And, you've written an opera on the life of Christ.
Jerome Hines Well, I won't say church music, my special interest, I had written an opera on the life of Christ and I've I played the part of Christ in the opera and I've been doing sort of an apprenticeship for playing the part of Christ over the past 14 or 15 years by singing in Skid Rows; doing mostly mission work.
Studs Terkel You would sing in the Skid Rows?
Studs Terkel This is very funny. I shouldn't laugh and I understand for different reasons you used to go to Skid Row
Jerome Hines Well, I I I have seen this picture that was taken of Chaliapin in Mosul, Iraq. They were both down in the breadline at the Salvation Army in Skid Row. But, I'm sure that he, basically, went down more for curiosity
Studs Terkel Yes, but you sing at the mission?
Jerome Hines Oh yes. I've been doing this for about 15 years and I know your Chicago 'Skid Row' extremely well. I've been at the Harbor, at the Harbor Light many, many times. Major Quinn was usually the one in charge. I don't know if he's still there or not; right now.
Studs Terkel So, what happens when you? It's interesting, when you Jerome Hines, with your voice, sing at 'Skid Row'. The guys who come in, do they sense something?
Jerome Hines Oh, surely. Look. Remember one thing. We tend to make the same mistake that I, myself, made originally. I had sung one night, I brought some friends down from the Met and we sang a big concert and my friends got kind of carried away. And first thing you know, we were practic[ally] singing the second act of Traviata. We were doing Schubert's "Lieder" and all sorts of things and I got rather uneasy about the whole thing, feeling, it was getting a little bit over the people's heads out here. [clank] When it was over, I spoke to one of the converts who was a friend of mine. I said, "Bill, Don't you think the program is a little bit too too far out for this group?" And now, I stopped. I hadn't stopped to think; this man had been a 30,000 a year, a computer salesman, before he ended up in Skid Row. He said, "Mr. Hines" he says. "You make one mistake." He said he said, "We didn't come from Skid Row, we ended up here and a great proportion of these men on Skid Row have come from definitely the higher street. I have met ex-millionaires, ex-bank presidents, ex-band leaders; you name it. And I've met it on Skid Row.
Studs Terkel So, you find you have quite an audience
Studs Terkel - to perform. This, this opera, what do you, what do you call it?
Jerome Hines The opera is called "I Am the Way" and it's scenes from the life of Christ. Eventually, it's going to be three operas on the life of Christ. These are scenes taken from the three. And, the American and New York Bible Society has decided they wanted to produce it in New York at the Metropolitan Opera House for one night. And, we've got a great big thing rolling. We've got a 60,000-dollar production for one night. And, now three weeks in advance we only have 700 seats left.
Studs Terkel This is April Seventh.
Jerome Hines Yes.
Studs Terkel You hope to, tour it, perhaps, too?
Jerome Hines Well we have done it in Indianapolis. We're doing it in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Charlotte. We're negotiating in several other cities right now and, of course, hopefully to come to Chicago if we get the backing for it.
Studs Terkel Well, we hope it does come here, indeed. You know, what an ironic way to end a conversation with Jerome Hines about the life of Christ. We're gonna end with Mefistofeles again.
Jerome Hines That's right. [laughter]
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] And, what better than a "Calf of Gold."
Jerome Hines That's
Studs Terkel I think that has all sorts of meanings; doesn't it?
Jerome Hines Yes.
Studs Terkel When he sings. This is during Valentin's farewell.
Jerome Hines You know, I could almost say now that, people say that religion is no longer relevant to our modern society. I must say the "Calf of Gold" certainly seems relevant to our problems today; doesn't
Studs Terkel Yes. [unintelligible]
Jerome Hines I do. What makes us tick wrongly.
Studs Terkel Here's what he's saying really, isn't it? About the material aspect of life tempting him and saying how great all
Jerome Hines Everybody worships the calf of gold.
Studs Terkel Jerome Hines, a very delightful guest, indeed, and powerful bari- baritone?
Studs Terkel Bass. Thank you very much, indeed. As we your Mefisto-- Mefistofeles once more and saying that which you do not believe in, but Mefistofeles did.
Jerome Hines Right.
Studs Terkel Thank you very much indeed.