Lessons from Music History
Cuban Missile Crisis:
Musician Behind the Scenes
by Barbara Kavanaugh
Source: This Is My Story, This Is My Song by Jerome Hines
Direct quotes noted by page numbers
Lesson 7 - Jerome Hines (1921-2003)
A Musician of Diligence, Dedication, and Faith
A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY
As a senior in high school, looming at 6’6” and 150 pounds, Jerome Hines’ parents were concerned about his withdrawn, introverted personality. Jerry was content to live in his chemistry books and a lab. “To extrovert him somewhat” [p 19], he was given a voice lesson at which he was told to stop imitating Bing Crosby. He had been ousted from the glee club because he couldn’t carry a tune.
The great voice teacher Maestro Gennaro Curci recognized this young man’s potential, and thus began a long mentoring relationship. Jerry entered UCLA as a chemistry/mathematics major. In addition to his college studies, he managed to take eight to twelve private vocal and coaching lessons per week. His coach, Vladimir Rosing, also worked with him for decades. Hines attributed his success to the dedication and perseverance of these two incredible teachers.
While studying college math and science, singing, and performing, Jerry worked night shifts as a chemist for an oil company. World War II was raging, and his study and work as a chemist deferred his military service. He received his Bachelor of Science degree and completed all work but the thesis for a masters degree in chemistry.
During this amazingly arduous time, Hines began to sing professionally, always making time for performances. At eighteen he signed his first opera contract, with the San Francisco Opera Company. Curci believed that students should teethe on the opera repertory. By the age of twenty, Jerry knew twenty operas in their original languages.
Jerome Hines married Italian soprano Lucia Evangelista in 1952. They lived in the New York City area and raised four sons.
Mr. Hines sang with the Metropolitan Opera for forty-one years, from 1946-1987, singing forty-five roles in thirty-nine operas. He performed leading roles in every major opera company in the world, including the Bayreuth from 1958-1963. He was the bass soloist in Otto Klemperer’s 1964 full recording of Handel’s Messiah.
Five papers on mathematics in Mathematics Magazine (1951-1956)
Three books: a memoir—This is My Story, This is My Song (1969), two books on singing—
Great Singers on Great Singing (1982) and The Four Voices of Man (1997)
Compositions: I Am the Way, an opera based on the life of Christ (1968)
From an American Christian perspective, Hines’ path from a young man with a skeptical, scientifically-trained mind and worldly ambition to a believer in Jesus Christ the Son of God, was certainly not the norm. Jerry’s first and brief venture into church life was at nineteen in a church that did not believe in a personal, caring God.
In his memoir, Mr. Hines wrote of yearning and searching for a meaning in life. He sought this seemingly intangible answer in psychology and hypnotism. He began to read the Bible, mostly the New Testament, and continued on with his extremely busy, world-traveling life as a great opera star.
Around 1952, family tragedy and performing stresses shook his confidence. In a vivid dream, he saw himself as a speck of dust and totally apart from a God who was looking from the skies down to earth. Yet, Mr. Hines continued his performances of role after role.
One night, like a quick thunderbolt, words flashed into his mind. Jerry knew he was hearing the Voice of a Higher Power. The words were not a daily occurrence, but he recognized the Voice was not coming from his mind. Often, it would say to open the Gideon Bible in the hotel room. Occasionally, conversations ensued, giving Jerry the direction or answers he needed. Sometimes, Jerry argued back. Always, God’s promises of love and faithfulness held true.
For quite a while, he did not know that the Voice he heard was the Voice of the God of the Bible. Jerry gradually understood that through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God gives us a life on earth to know Him and the promise of eternal life.
After more than a year of this dialogue, God spoke to Jerry that he needed a church and fellowship. Hines was in London at the time, and God directed him to a mission of the Salvation Army Church. Embarrassed and uncomfortable to be in the slums, he stepped inside and asked if he could help. Jerry washed dishes, delivered meals, moved junk for the Good Will. The first time he sang for one of the church services, his voice was horrible. God clearly said: “I am not interested in your beautiful voice, but in your message.” [p 88] This time in London was the beginning of Jerome Hines’ lifetime participation in the Salvation Army wherever he happened to be.
CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS, A MUSICIAN BEHIND THE SCENES
Contracts and preparation:
Sol Hurok called Jerome Hines early in 1961 with the great news that he would tour Russia and sing Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi Theatre, the dream of every bass opera singer. Hines knew he could not sing this Russian masterpiece by rote; he must learn to speak fluent Russian in one year’s time. He wrote: “I don’t believe I ever worked so hard in my life as I did preparing this opera.” [p 109] Hines consulted with twelve psychiatrists and psychologists to understand the complicated Boris, whose guilt over murdering a child to usurp the throne drove him to insanity.
Opera is aptly named, as the word means “work”. Hassles abounded, including issues between the management in Russia with the management of the Met. Then the Bolshoi moved Boris to the following year which meant Hines would not sing with the Bolshoi company, but with a company from Siberia on their Moscow tour. Jerry struggled with humiliation over the cancellation. To compound the complexities, he was contracted to sing Don Carlos at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires just prior to the Russian tour. Lucia would accompany him, and the flight from Argentina would fly directly to Russia.
World situations were iffy, to say the least. The USSR and America were deep into the Cold War, and Argentina with Perón was ripe for revolution. Before the Argentine trip, God told Jerry, “I’m going to put a circle of protection around you for two months so the devil cannot touch you in any way.” [p 112] Lucia and Jerry knew their decision was to trust God and go. Their visas for Argentina came at the very last moment, while 40,000 troops and tanks were crowding the streets of Buenos Aires.
During their one month stay in Argentina, the weather in Buenos Aires was terrible, and Hines continually suffered from a throat infection. The final performances needed to be delayed for two days. Problems arose, solutions miraculously occurred, the revolution delayed, and the operas were superb. The exact day that their flight left for Russia, jets bombed Buenos Aires, and the airport was closed. Who could deny divine protection?
While in Argentina, Jerry received a telegram from Russia that the lead bass soloist for the Siberian Opera Company had been electrocuted in his bathtub, and their performances in Moscow were cancelled. To avoid an international incident in the cultural exchange between the USSR and USA, the Bolshoi scheduled one performance for Jerome Hines to sing Boris with their company.
In Moscow and on tour:
When Jerry and Lucia arrived in Moscow, Jerry was very exhausted, sick, and facing a murderous three-week schedule. He was to sing multiple performances of Faust and The Barber of Seville, as well as Boris Godunov. Lucia was a wonderfully supportive wife and always watched the operas where he could see her in a box seat.
The dress rehearsal for Boris was at 11 a.m., an anathema for singers. After the well-sung rehearsal, the company doctor examined Mr. Hines’ throat. The doctor, whose word was law, declared his voice must rest or risk being damaged forever, and cancelled his performance. Jerry stubbornly protested until the doctor relented to leave the decision with the singer himself. Back in his room came the agony of what to do. The Lord spoke: “I brought you here for a purpose…you are sick because you were so afraid of singing in Moscow that you brought this on yourself. Now pick yourself up like a man and sing.” [p133]
The next afternoon, he vocalized and then spent over two hours putting on his makeup (he always insisted on building his character himself, from the inside out), and donned the 35-pound coronation costume. Backstage before the final scene, he felt he had no voice. In panic, he cried “God, where are you?… I have failed you…I want to die.” Mr. Hines said he had no prayer of faith but a prayer of utter despair, and that this act was the worse struggle he ever had on any stage.
Yet, as a performer, he walked onto the stage for the final act, the dramatic death scene. Boris’ last words after he tumbles down the stairs to his throne are ‘Forgive me—forgive me”. At this performance, Hines courageously added the words “O my God…Thank you”. The Russian audience adored this American singer performing their national operatic icon. Early the next morning the Americans departed for the tour of several more operas in various cities. The finale performance of the tour was to be back at the Bolshoi with a production of Faust.
The second Boris Godunov at the Bolshoi:
For months, Hines believed that God had ordained something very significant for his time in the USSR. He had sung for presidents and heads of state and wondered if he would sing for Khrushchev. In Moscow, he was informed that if the Premier ever attended an opera, it was only for the first performance, with no assurance that he would stay for the entire production.
Performers learn to be flexible, because the unexpected and changes are sure to happen. The theater management ousted Faust for a second Boris. The very morning of the performance, Lucia and Jerry heard a rumor about President Kennedy announcing a blockade in Cuba. It was confirmed during lunch with the American ambassador and told to the Russian public ninety minutes before curtain time. How hostile would the audience be? What a precarious situation!
Time to begin, and to everyone’s surprise, the cameramen were kicked offstage. Khrushchev had come to the opera. Mr. Hines realized that this leader came as a political move. Jerry asked for the Lord’s blessing and knew as he walked onto the stage that he was there as an emissary of Jesus Christ.
After the first act, Lucia ran backstage, “Darling, what you trying to do, insult Mr. Khrushchev? He stood up and motion for the public to give thees standing ovation and you don’ even geev heem a bow. Nothing!” [p 154] Jerry had not been able to locate him. She told him right where to look. The next intermission, the same frantic wife, and the same panicked bass, “Jerrrry, what you try to do, start WWIII?” [p 155] Once more, he had been looking in the wrong direction. He feared that he appeared as deliberately snubbing the man. The opera finally over, Mr. Hines recognized the familiar figure, walked to within six feet of his box and made a low, dramatic bow.
The applause ended and Hines was told that the Premier was waiting for him and his wife. A toast was proposed to Jerome Hines. At first the conversation was light and casual, about Hines’ height and tumbling down the stairs. It grew rather strained when Khrushchev asked about America’s opinion of Russian music and art. Hines fondly mentioned a great Russian bass, not realizing that the singer had defected. There was a lengthy spiel about how art is the greatest when it is serving communism. The conversation eventually moved back to pleasantries. There was much eye contact between this Russian dictator and American Christian, who was fervently praying through it all.
A half hour passed, “Khrushchev raised his glass significantly, looking directly and meaningfully at me, and proposed a toast to ‘peace and friendship between our countries’. ‘I’ll drink to that,’ I said clearly. After the toast I said to the Premier in my best Russian, ‘God bless you’. Khrushchev looked as if he were about to say, ‘This to me?’ And all laughed again. The reception was over.” [p 158]
Jerry and Lucia left for New York the following morning. As their plane took off from Moscow, anti-American protestors were stoning the American ambassador’s car. Khrushchev refused to meet with the American ambassador or any representatives from the West in the following days.
God’s circle of protection was complete.
Enjoy listening to The Trumpet Shall Sound from Handel’s Messiah, Jerome Hines, bass soloist.