Visited Frank Lopardo. Still a class act.

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My friend’s dear parents, the Tisocco’s, invited me to the Lyric Opera’s Eugene Onegin last night. Great cast, great show. Hvorostovsky, Lopardo, Kuznetsova, the evening was a real delight. And the chorus was tops as well. Anyways, I dropped off a quick note to ask Frank to add me to the backstage list, and sure enough, he did. With my name tag stuck onto my coat, I marched to his dressing room and he greeted me with a warm hug and smile. We walked and talked briefly on the way out, and he was not at a loss for questions: “How’s the babies? How’s Martha doing? What are you up to, what are you working on?” I mean, the guy is in the middle of the Onegin run, he’s tired (from a truly remarkably artistic performance), heading out for a drink with colleagues, and he remembers he last saw my family about 18 months earlier and my lovely wife’s name.

I have two definitive stories about Frank Lopardo.

It all started with a lunch at the cantina in the Santa Fe Opera campus in the summer of 2001.

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Frank was always very personable and friendly with the apprentices. Would hang around during down time in rehearsals, easy with a joke, always with a smile and “hello” when traipsing round the grounds. Since I wanted to not miss any opportunity to get to know the artists and their impressions of the business, I asked if he would mind having lunch with me and allow me to “interview” him about his career and thoughts. He kindly obliged and we had a great time. But one moment in particular sticks. While talking, a patron he must have know well approached our table while walking his dog. Frank and this fellow greet one another, and our visitor wanted to engage Frank some more. Frank says to this guy he obviously knows well, “I would like to talk later, but I would really like to keep my lunch appointment. I’ll catch up with you during the week.” And like that, the guy left, and Frank picked right up were he left off with me. Shazam. I don’t think anyone in a mentoring position did that with me before. Frank could have blown me off, he could have kept talking with the guy, whatever. I certainly was a nobody and he had no obligation to continue our lunch. But on we went, and he answered questions about being a young singer, finding inspiration, bad breaks, good luck, family, etc. I never went back to Santa Fe, but that memory takes me back often.

The second story happened in the summer of 2006. It was my first concert in the CSC and we were performing at Ravinia the Verdi Requiem. I was a little nervous, trying to keep up, and trying to fit in with my new colleagues. I knew Frank was the tenor soloist, so I figured I would get a chance at the break to say hello. We were in place for the first dress rehearsal with the orchestra, James Conlon, Stephanie Blythe and Christina Brewer. Everyone is quietly assembled on stage. With about a minute before the rehearsal was to start, I get a nudge from the guy next to me to look forward. As I turn ahead, Frank, in front of God and everyone there who never knew me at all, points across the divide to me and says, “Hey, when am I going to see the baby?” I smiled and replied, “I’m bringing him on Saturday.” Instant street cred. I wasn’t looking for it, mind you, but it sure puts your mind at ease when one of the great tenors of our time points you out as a friend amongst all your colleagues. That felt really good. That Saturday, I brought Peter and Martha backstage to his dressing room. He held Pete (who was fussy), smiled and laughed with him while feeding him pretzels. Frank held up my son and says, “I now have inspiration to sing tonight. I’m singing this one for Peter”. It happened to be Pete’s birthday. What a great gift from a great guy.

So, in continuing my series of real good people in opera, here’s to Frank Lopardo.

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