I was talking with one of the elders in our congregation this afternoon. Somehow, we got to talking about classical music. She happened to know a great deal about opera, and asked me if I knew Ileana Cotrubas. I didn’t. She played me a short recording.

Now, I tend to prefer mezzo-sopranos to sopranos, and non-operatic sopranos to operatic sopranos; give me Jan De Gaetani or Catherine King over Beverly Sills or Maria Callas any day. So I did not expect to like Ileana Cotrubas.

But, to my surprise, I really liked the recordings she played for me: a lovely warm voice that didn’t get brittle on the high notes; extraordinary articulation; not too much vibrato. So I’ve just spent way too much time on Youtube listening to Cotrubas — like this recording of her singing an aria from La Boheme.

This reminded me of a visit Carol and I paid to my father in his last year. He was wheelchair bound, couldn’t talk; it was hard to know how much cognitive ability he had left. He had always been a real opera buff, so Carol and I decided to play some Youtube recordings of opera for him. I found a recording of Beverly Sills, and started to play it. Dad’s face turned into a big scowl. “Oops, sorry Dad,” I said. “I forgot that you don’t like Beverly Sills.” Actually, it was worse than that, he actively disliked her, saying her voice was too hard or brittle or something, I’ve forgotten exactly what now. So I quickly found a recording of Maria Callas; he always liked Maria Callas. His scowl went away, and we spent several happy minutes listening to Maria Callas. (Mind you, I don’t care for Maria Calls, but I was happy that we found something that gave Dad pleasure.)

It’s funny how I, like my father, have these visceral, unreasoning, and very strong preferences regarding vocal quality. There are some singers that I want to listen to, and other singers — as much as I might appreciate their artistry or expertise — that I’d rather avoid. This applies to speakers, too. So, for example, there are some ministers whose artistry I admire, but I don’t want to listen to them; and there are other ministers to whom I’m always ready to listen.

My mother would have said, “They can’t help their voice,” excusing those people whose voices I don’t like. Sorry, Mom. It’s completely irrational, but there it is. And — sorry, Dad, that I ever thought you’d want to listen to Beverly Sills….

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