BY CHARLIE HANDELMAN
Every time I begin to write something about Regina Resnik, whether it be liner notes for a CD, a review of a particular recording, or this very article, my thoughts begin to race around in my head at too fast a speed for me to grasp, for this is an individual of so many great attributes in the world of music and such an incredibly unique human being, that I wonder if perhaps I might just as well write a book. But I will cut it all down to a simple article like this one and attempt to explain some of my feelings toward someone I have known for over 40 years onstage and off.
My first introduction to Mme. Resnik was at a performance of Salome in the old Met back in 1958. A friend had informed me that she had become a mezzo-soprano after a distinguished career as a soprano and had performed a Marina in Boris Godunov that caused such raves that I just had to see for myself what this was all about. Well, as it turned out, the role of Herodias, thought to be a rather smallish part, became so important that evening, owing to Madame Resnik's phenomenal command of the stage and the richness of her vocal timbre. I was totally committed to her art from that moment on, and went on to see her in subsequent seasons as Laura in Gioconda, where she and Zinka Milanov brought down the house after their act two duet. (Note: I thought only Cloe Elmo could sing the opening of "L'amo come il fulgor del creATO" with that kind of tone), and later in all of her great "signature roles" such as Carmen, Dame Quickly, and the Klytaemnestra of one's dreams.
In those days we had music clubs for singers and I soon discovered there was one for Regina and so each year we had a wonderful time at her home in NYC. Listening to her wonderful opera stories and partaking of so many great examples of her analyses of subjects relative to the vocal art -- plus she sure can cook!
As the years passed and I began to collect many performances dating back to the earliest part of her career. I heard a "La mamma morta" that sounded to a well-known opera coach and teacher reminiscent of Rosa Ponselle? And then we have the great Sieglinde of Bayreuth 1953 and then the brilliant Fricka of 1961, with Resnik singing tones of the greatest depth and richness..and on and on in so many great roles. And toward the end of her Met days, that one-and-only "Chacun a Bing's gout" that caused the audience to erupt in hysterics as the Met took leave of Sir Rudolf Bing in 1972?
Some people tell me that I rave and rave over Regina and some of my other "opera-diva friends" in such a way that I do not appear to be objective because there is a personal relationship involved; exactly the opposite is the case, because I "loved the star before I knew her" and in fact am even overly critical, in an effort to be objective. In Regina's case, it is quite easy to rave, because her achievements are so many and she has been so highly honored in so many countries by so many people. Her television documentary entitled, "The Historic Ghetto of Venice" was an award-winner in 1983.She received a Tony nomination for the role of Frau Schneider in Cabaret in 1988 a Drama Desk Award for Mme. Armfelt role in the New York City Opera Production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music in 1990.
On the occasion of her 50th Anniversary she was honored at her Alma Mater, New York's Hunter College as well as in various European capitals where she had earned great praise as a great artist. Most recently she became the first recipient of the Diamond Award from the New York City Opera and received the Lawrence Tibbett Award from AGMA for a lifetime of achievement. Taking into account an opera career of well over three decades, plus her endeavors in the field of directing, producing, filmmaking, acting and teaching, I realized that perhaps no one ... yes, I said NO ONE in this century had achieved quite the unique place to which she had risen, for she had become so well-appreciated in so many fields that I could not think of one other opera star who had been able to make such a mark in so many areas. Perhaps today, Placido Domingo might be the closest.
Today Mme. Resnik divides her year between New York and Venice for many ventures, including master classes in these and in other cities. For many years she collaborated with her husband, the great painter and sculptor Arbit Blatas, until his death in 1999. Now, in her 80th year, she remains much in demand worldwide as teacher,coach, adjudictor and mentor; her knowledge, vitality and exuberance have exerted profound influence on many young singers.
This was my very "brief" article on someone I have known and loved for many years. I hope it was at least informative and I do urge you to spend some time listening to some of the great recordings of Mme. Resnik, available on CD. I have attempted to present a picture of one of the most important artists of the century, so aptly named "Regina." Long may she reign!