In Memoriam: Vincenzo La Scola

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Nowadays, it seems, you have not died until you have died on Facebook. On April 15 at 6:01 pm, Samuel Ramey posted, "I just received a message from an Italian FB friend that the tenor Vincenzo la Scola died. He died in Turkey but I have no other details. So sad. What a nice man and a wonderful singer he was.

With Facebook one never quite knows whether the posting is in local time (Sam might have been in Chicago) or the time it was posted on the page of the recipient (Fred in New York). Fabio Armiliato, my tenor friend in life as well as on Facebook, was in Liege, Belgium rehearsing for his first Otello. At 3:33 pm he had posted:

Sono sconvolto per la morte di Vincenzo La Scola, un collega e un amico straordinario!!!....Ciao Vincenzo!!!

(I am heartbroken at the death of Vincenzo La Scola, a colleague and an extraordinary friend....Ciao Vincenzo!!!)

Seventy-nine people “liked” his post and 46 made comments. One of them was tenor Frank Lopardo who, at 5:28 pm, wrote:

We met only once in Chicago many years ago. He was such a warm and generous soul. Vincenzo you will be greatly missed by your friends and colleagues as well as a public that loved you. Rest in Peace. Sing with the Angels.

People reading Fabio in Europe immediately started asking for details and, despite the imminent singing assignment (which, according to friends of mine, was a big success), he did due diligence and located a wire service report that he posted at 3:48 pm.

Vincenzo La Scola (Jan 26, 1958-April 15, 2011) died of a heart attack in Istanbul, where he was teaching master classes. I knew La Scola slightly during his life. We had met a couple of times, once in New York, once in Parma, where he was evolving into a fine teacher. We had each other’s e-mail addresses but tended to send greetings to one another via Facebook. There are some opera friends I only converse with by e-mail (to save their voices and my international telephone bills) but primarily because Facebook is too public, while e-mail preserves only slightly the feeling of a correspondence between two friends. Vincenzo and I were acquaintances with common interests and a shout-out via social media suited us fine.

When I started to realize that he might, in fact, have died, and I could not find any hard evidence, I went to his Facebook page. I was startled to see more than a hundred comments addressing him directly, mostly in Italian, as if he were still present to read them. Most expressed shock at his early death while others told him how great he was. I was reminded that in Italy, friends and relations place small announcements of participation in mourning the recently deceased, and La Scola’s Facebook page was was a virtual equivalent of that.

One commenter “told” Vincenzo how shameful it was that the tenor’s hometown paper, Palermo’s Il Giornale di Sicilia, placed his brief obituary on page 41 to make room for a bigger photo of some young starlet. This elicited harsh comments from others about the state of media and the arts in Italy.

I had done a search on the Web sites of The New York Times, Opera News, Corriere della Sera, La Stampa and La Repubblica, none of which covered La Scola’s passing. Oddly enough, it was the not-always-reliable Wikipedia that provided confirmation of his death, citing a lengthy article that appeared in the Palermo edition of La Repubblica on April 16, with a headline saying “farewell to Vincenzo La Scola, the tenor who conquered New York.”

The tenor sang with the Met between 1993 and 2006, 22 performances in the house as Rodolfo (La Bohéme), Alfredo (La Traviata) and Mario Cavaradossi (Tosca) and five in summer parks performances as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto. He also sang at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, at La Scala, and collaborated with Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti and many fine singers. He was also immensely popular in Japan.

It is both moving and sad that an artist of quality, much loved by his colleagues and a discerning public, receives his biggest tributes not in the print or broadcast media or at the theaters where he sang (the Teatro Massimo of Palermo paused for a minute of silence during a rehearsal), but in cyberspace, where friends, colleagues and admirers pay tribute and a few of his performances can be heard on YouTube.

It makes me think that Facebook is like a giant piazza where people gather using their fingertips, while the irreplaceable experience of sharing music or news face to face is slipping away. Opera, and life, might have some meaning in their virtual facsimiles, but nothing can replace the human touch, the shared moment, or the sound of a live voice unmediated by electronics. Addio, Vincenzo La Scola: