Here is my Val story: I am a street opera buff. I like tenors, the big ones: Caruso, Gigli, Bjoerling, Pavarotti. I didn’t have record player, which meant that 90 percent of the stuff in Val’s halla Records was off limits. But she stocked a surprisingly eclectic collection of opera cassettes, and the cassette player in my 1984 red Alpha Spider sounded good playing opera at full blast with the top down.
When I asked if she had tapes of Beniamino Gigli, Val started singing in a voice that I would describe as dusky/sandpaper/enthusiast. She sang in Italian. I don’t recall if it was “Torna a Surrento” or “Mattinata” or “Mamma.” She said her father, an immigrant from Italy, loved Gigli and sang these songs when she was a girl.
My favorite tenor was Jussi Bjoerling, whose voice had a cold Nordic ping when it hit the high C, like a burst of winter sun, and Val chastised me for not better appreciating the warmer Mediterranean melt of Beniamino Gigli at full tilt. After a half hour of back and forth on the vocal qualities of dead tenors, we agreed to disagree. And that was kind of the point.