The comedian Jimmy Durante was a customer of a company I worked for. Once, I watched as he came into the building and I could literally feel the wave of love that followed him down the hallway. In the 1950’s I saw Maurice Chevalier perform at Ciro’s night club in Hollywood. He was marvelous, but what I remembered most was what the girl with me said: “Charm will overcome talent every time.” What Chevalier had, what Jimmy Durante had, what some opera singers had, was an innate quality of just plain likeability. That special connection with an audience, irrespective of talent, that makes people feel … good about them.
Richard Tauber(1891 – 1948) was Austrian, born to acting parents who were not married to each other. He had a light, lyric, flexible, tenor voice with a remarkable warmth to it and he sang with great elegance, style and charm, he was certainly one of the finest singers of the century. He was an excellent musician and conductor and sang in operas such as Don Giovanni, The Bartered Bride, and Die Fledermaus, as well as French operas such as Carmen and Faust.
In 1920, Tauber began appearing in operettas, starting a collaboration with Franz Lehar who wrote several for him including The Land of Smiles, with it’s smash hit song, Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herst (You Are My Heart’s Delight.) . He also starred in a number of films and made over 700 recordings. Because of his Jewish ancestry, Tauber moved to England in 1938 and made several films there including English language versions of The Land of Smiles and Pagliacci
He continued to sing on radio but he was severely crippled by arthritis, which limited his movements on stage. Still, in 1947, he managed to sing a final performance in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House. He died of lung cancer only a few months later.
Joseph Schmidt (1904 – 1942) almost belongs on the Brief Candles page since his career lasted only 13 years, but during that period he became internationally famous, made several films, and was a major radio star in Germany. He was Romainian, born in a part of Austria-Hungary that is now the Ukraine and was fluent in German, Yiddish, Romainian, French, and English. He started his career as a Cantor in the synagogue where he had received his first vocal training.
Schmidt stood only 4′ 9″ tall which made a career in opera out of the question, but he sang opera arias on the radio and in films. He had a lovely lyric tenor voice with a ringing top up to a high D and his sense of melody and style made his recordings of popular songs best sellers. His shy smile and engaging personality made him extremely popular, even beloved, in Germany. But when he refused propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels’ offer to make him an Honorary Aryan, he found himself banned in Germany and Austria. His health was not good, and when France was invaded by the Nazis, he tried to escape to Switzerland but was interned in a Swiss refugee camp where had a heart attack. Medical care was poor and conditions were harsh. Forced to dig ditches, he had another heart attack and died at the age of 38.
Bidu Sayao (1902 – 1999) made her opera debut at age of 18. Born in Brazil, she studied with Jean de Reszke, who had been the leading tenor at the Metropolitan before the arrival of Caruso and Arturo Toscanini became her lifelong friend and supporter. She was as popular at the Met as Beverly Sills would be at the City Opera 20 years later, and for much the same reasons. She had an irresistible, sparkling, utterly feminine, personality combined with a crystal clear voice and exquisitely delicate phrasing.
She was married to baritone Guiseppe Danise for 28 years until his death. Of course, opera fans will always remember Bidu Sayao for one performance if for no other. In 1947 she sang Juliet to Jussi Bjorling’s Romeo in an unforgettable performance of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera. In all, she performed for 15 seasons at the Metropolitan until her retirement in 1952.