Bringing together the two amazing operatic careers
of the “diva, impressaria, legend”: our own Irene Dalis
By Mort Levine
Irene Dalis had an amazingly successful run
on the world’s most prestigious and demanding
operatic stages. But, she considers the second career she created as the more important one. That
is the founding, care and nurturing to its present
eminence of Opera San José, arguably one of the
most inspiring training programs and successful
regional performing companies in the nation.
All of the above is solidly documented in the
fine volume produced by Linda Riebel and published
in a picture-packed, easily read volume by
Print and Pixel Press of Lafayette, Ca.
She got the idea of the biography after a dinner with Ms. Dalis who told her that no memoir or autobiography was in the offing. “Who would want to read that?” A typical Dalis response, but, clearly, the story had to be told in full, and Linda Riebel has done just that.
Most moving is the emigrant story that precedes this fabulous pair of careers. It goes back to 1903 and the arrival in New York of Padaskivas Nicholas Thelyis. The Ellis Island officials Americanized that to Peter N. Dalis, a sturdy man who loved to sing. He married Mamie Boitano, of an Italian Sacramento family six years later. They moved to San Jose and had five children, of whom Yvonne (later to be renamed Irene for the stage) was the youngest, born in 1925.
The book follows the upbringing and musical
education at San José State. Armed with a double
major in piano and voice and pushed by her older
sister Marge, she went to Columbia Teachers‘
College for a master‘s degree. There she caught
the ear of the professor of vocal pedagogy who
dissuaded her from returning home to a career in
education. He recommended some outstanding
voice coaches, and she ultimately came to work
with Edyth Walker, a most demanding mentor
who traced her techniques back to opera’s most venerated singers.
The rest is an amazing story of going to Europe and signing up as a resident artist with a small company in Oldenburg, Germany. She met and auditioned for the Metropolitan’s Rudolf Bing who
was scouting young voices. He was impressed,
suggested the name change, and then agreed to
wait four years while she learned her craft as a
resident artist singing lead roles in Oldenburg,
Germany. The program they had there eventually
became the model for Opera San José’s successful
method of training young singers.
The book doesn’t skimp on highlights of the
career as a star at Beyreuth, Covent Garden and
the Met. It also details the many legendary performers who sang with her and their praise of her astonishing performances in Parsifal, Don Carlo, il Trovatore, Cavalleria Rusticana and so many more. Her wide ranging mezzo-soprano spanned Wagner to Puccini.
The decision to retire, the book relates, came partially because Rudolf Bing ended his long Met reign. It also came about because she found she
no longer had confidence to sing certain roles.
After a benefit concert back home in San Jose’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral in 1977 she concluded it was time to stop singing. Her long-time husband, George Loinas, supported her decision. A spontaneous offer of a professorship and the ability to start an opera workshop came from San José State’s president.
From that grew, step by careful step, the
amazing program that is Opera San José
The book pulls together lots of reference information
as well as a strong narrative of these two
careers. Lists are given of all OSJ’s performances,
its many singers who have gone on to important
careers, a Dalis discography and a large number
of quotes from her admirers locally and worldwide,
especially other performers, maestros and
administrators of opera companies.
There is also an extensive chapter on how opera
lovers can help the company and the Dalis
successor, Larry Hancock, for year’s her right
hand man. All proceeds from the $20 sale price
for the book go to Opera San José. It is obtainable
at Barnes and Noble, Amazon or from either
irenedalis.com or operasj.org.
It is a highly recommended read and a useful reference tome for your opera bookshelf.
(SJOG Newsletter November 2014)
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