Sanford Sylvan, Baritone Who Created Major Opera Roles, Dies at 65

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lennygoran
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Sanford Sylvan, Baritone Who Created Major Opera Roles, Dies at 65

Post by lennygoran » Sat Feb 02, 2019 8:58 am

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There are audio clips at the site. I see he never appeared at the Met.

Regards, Len



Sanford Sylvan, Baritone Who Created Major Opera Roles, Dies at 65


By Zachary Woolfe

Feb. 1, 2019

Sanford Sylvan, the American baritone whose introspective eloquence and serene yet commanding presence put him at the center of some of the most important operatic events of recent times, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 65.

The cause was not immediately known, his family said.

Mr. Sylvan’s voice — solid, but silken and plangent — and his combination of emotional openness and understated dignity brought to operatic life two crucial characters in landmark works by John Adams. He was the first Chou En-lai in “Nixon in China” (1987) and Leon Klinghoffer in “The Death of Klinghoffer” (1991). He was also the soloist at the premiere of “The Wound-Dresser” (1989), Mr. Adams’s reflective orchestral setting of Whitman’s poem.

“He was my muse,” Mr. Adams said in a phone interview on Thursday. “Certainly for the male voice during that period.”

Mr. Sylvan was proposed for the “Nixon” role by its director, Peter Sellars, for whom he also starred in a pair of modern-dress stagings in the 1980s: “Così Fan Tutte,” which took place at a roadside diner, and “Le Nozze di Figaro,” set in Trump Tower in Manhattan. The productions were a radically unconventional approach to Mozart, and Mr. Sylvan’s energetic and sensitively shadowed portrayals — in “Così,” his Don Alfonso was a Vietnam veteran embittered by grief — were central to their success.

“Sandy could sing that music with purity and a danger zone,” Mr. Sellars said in an interview on Thursday. “And Mozart at that time was not thought to be dangerous.”

Sanford Mead Sylvan was born on Dec. 19, 1953, in New York City, and grew up in Syosset, on Long Island. His mother, Lenore (Cohen) Sylvan, was a teacher, and his father, Elliott Sylvan, was a trucking company executive.

Inspired by a recording of Leontyne Price in “Aida,” Sanford fell in love with opera at an early age, and music teachers quickly discovered he had a voice.

Not yet in high school, he was admitted to the Juilliard School’s pre-college program, and he spent several summers at the Tanglewood Music Center, where he studied with the great soprano Phyllis Curtin, a passionate advocate of new music. He went on to the Manhattan School of Music, working on the side as an usher at the Metropolitan Opera. But after graduation, Mr. Sylvan did something unusual.


“In those days it was heresy to leave New York City if you wanted a career,” he said an interview with The New York Observer in 2011. “But I went to Boston in 1977 and it was the best thing I ever did. It’s hard to describe what Boston was like in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. There was a real relationship with the audience.”


In Boston, where he already had contacts through his time at Tanglewood, Mr. Sylvan met the pianist David Breitman, with whom he began a long recital partnership. He also became a part of the prestigious and close-knit ensemble Emmanuel Music, which the conductor Craig Smith had founded there in 1970 at Emmanuel Church, with performances of Bach’s cantatas at the group’s core.

Mr. Smith, who was working on Mr. Sellars’s 1981 production of Handel’s “Orlando” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., brought Mr. Sylvan in to audition for the title role. Orlando goes mad in an extended, intense, vocally dazzling scene in the second act.

“Sandy’s madness had absolute clarity,” Mr. Sellars said. “No operatic MSG. He put all the big gestures we’re used to from opera into this deeply personal space.”

“Orlando” led to Mr. Sellars’s Mozart cycle and the Adams operas, which became famous for mining recent history for its mythical import. “John found Sandy’s temperature,” Mr. Sellars said, “and Sandy’s temperature deeply inspired John.”

That temperature could seem deceptively mild. Chou En-lai, in “Nixon in China,” is the voice of reason in a tensely charged cast of characters, and Mr. Sylvan projected calm and equanimity. But he also captured undercurrents of fragility and anxiety. His Chou ended the opera in a tone of visionary resignation, summing up the frustration of the Nixon-Mao summit with a single, unanswerable question: “How much of what we did was good?”

While “Nixon” summoned Mr. Sylvan’s gravity and “The Wound-Dresser” his melancholy, “The Death of Klinghoffer” — a reflection on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestine Liberation Front militants, who killed Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled Jewish American passenger — demanded of Mr. Sylvan an overt outrage not usually associated with him.

But he made Klinghoffer’s indignation musical, and the aria sung by the character’s dead body, falling from the ship after being thrown overboard, was a controlled outpouring, rage focused into tenderness.


His recordings, many with Mr. Breitman, include programs of Schubert, Fauré, Jorge Martin and Virgil Thomson, as well as a luminous, delicate 1991 release, “Beloved That Pilgrimage,” which includes Theodore Chanler’s “Eight Epitaphs,” Barber’s “Hermit Songs” and Copland’s “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson.” Mr. Sylvan took part in the New York premiere of Mr. Adams’s opera “A Flowering Tree” in 2009, and also performed contemporary works by composers like Peter Maxwell Davies, Philip Glass, John Harbison and Charles Fussell.

Mr. Sylvan took regular sabbaticals, spending time in a small farming community in Scotland and exploring Buddhism and Judaism. But he remained grounded for decades in the Boston music scene. He became so closely associated with that city that when he moved to Montreal in 2007 to take a teaching position at McGill University, The Boston Globe ran an article about on his departure with the headline “Sanford Sylvan Uproots Himself.” He began teaching at Juilliard in 2012, and became chairman of the school’s voice faculty last year.

He is survived by his mother; his brother, Seth; and his sister, Gwen Sylvan.

The broad success and reach of Mr. Sylvan’s performances — Mr. Sellars’s Mozart stagings toured widely and were broadcast internationally, and the Adams operas, which Mr. Sylvan performed in multiple cities, were made into acclaimed recordings — did not change his modest, focused approach to his career. He chose his projects and collaborators carefully, and his work always felt meticulously, but never aridly, tailored. His tone was both airy and substantial; his diction crystalline; his manner direct and unaffected.

“I just did what I wanted,” he said in the 2011 interview. “I didn’t live like a prince. To sing the ‘St. Matthew Passion’ with a great conductor, that’s the bottom line for me. You don’t get rich singing the ‘St. Matthew Passion,’ you just get happy.”


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/01/obit ... -dead.html

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