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SJOG Travelers

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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