When I was fifteen, on a trip to San Francisco from my home, then, in Santa Cruz, at a café in the Theatre District, I could not take my eyes off a beautiful young man with long dark hair, dark eyes, and southern European complexion. He, too, had fixed his eyes on me. We smiled at one another. With a gesture of his hand, he invited me to join him at his table. It was a fateful moment.
His name was Antonio. He was an Italian tenor from Firenze, singing with the San Francisco Opera Company. When I told him I was Welsh, he said, ‘Well, then, of course, you sing.’ ‘Of course’, I assured him. ‘I am a counter tenor.’ From that moment forward, we were in love. He was in his mid-thirties, and unaccompanied in the City. Over coffee, for an hour, we shared some of the highlights of our musical histories. He then suggested that I go with him to his place; so that he could hear me sing. Without hesitation, I agreed. He paid our bill, and we left. He lived just blocks away, in a memorable building.
As soon as his door was closed behind us, no longer able to restrain ourselves, we threw ourselves into one another’s arms, kissing one another passionately, hungrily, each of us desperately removing the clothes of the other. After making love, still lying in bed, we began to devise plans to enable us to be together as often as possible. I suggested that in exchange for my teaching him Russian and Old Church Slavic, he teach me Italian and Latin. He had mentioned earlier that he needed to learn Russian for a rôle in Tchaikovsky’s opera of Pushkin’s masterpiece, ‘Evgeny Onegin’. Still, I can recite much of the prose poem in its original Russian by heart. The plan was set. Under a generous stipend, he would handle expenses. Fluent already in French, with a strong foundation in both Latin and Italian, most of the effort would be mine in ensuring that he was prepared for his rôle.
We showered together, then, while sharing bread and cheese with red wine – he, in an open bathrobe, I, with a towel around my waist – he showed me his lavish apartment. Most prominent were the grand piano and the harpsichord. At the harpsichord, he played a note, then he began to sing. His voice was heavenly. No persuasion necessary, I began to harmonize with him in a range without falsetto beyond his comfortable reach. He was ecstatic. I was elated. With effortless perfect pitch, both of us, we sang together as if we had never sung apart from one another.
(This story is not about a homosexual love affair, but about singing; so I will skip the juicy interludes of sexual intensity.)
For about a year, Antonio and I were seldom apart. As an opera virtuoso, singing in Italian, Latin, French, and German, he was a highly motivated and intelligent student of Russian and Old Church Slavic. My Italian and Latin, as we sang together in his apartment, also improved by leaps and bounds. We shared everything, in every way. As lovers, the intimacy we achieved – sensually, physically, spiritually, intellectually – was sublime.
Needless to convey, I am sure, Antonio was more than ready when the time came to perform his rôle. So confident was he, so brilliant, he stole the show. I was there for every performance.
With that challenge met, we began to plan a trip together to Europe. He wanted to take me to his home there, to introduce me as his Russian teacher, at least, and perhaps his lover. Of course, I wanted to take him with me to Wales, and to France. Almost simultaneously, the thought occurred to us both, that we tour Europe together – Italy, France, Germany, England, Wales, and the Soviet Union (still, then), at least, singing in churches. But would two tenors be sufficient? We decided to look for a female alto, and a bass/baritone.
In Giulia, a violinist for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, and an accomplished choral singer, we found our alto. In Paul, a ravishing interracial gay man, also from San Francisco – black father, German mother, and also fluent in Russian – we found our bass/baritone. We began to practice together. Antonio was our lead, of course. He, too, through his contacts, began to approach churches for their interest. Giulia, Paul, and I also reached out as we could. Giulia had connections in the Netherlands; Paul, in Germany; I, in Wales, Scotland, France, and Russia.
To finance the project, we decided to get to Europe on our own, as a group, of course, then rely upon the generosity of appreciation in donations from those who attended our performances. Advertising for the events was handled by the venues themselves, the churches. The church communities, too, provided accommodations within those communities.
We performed in Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Wales, and Russia. We performed in Latin, Italian, French, German, English, Russian, and, yes, Welsh. German, coached by Paul and Antonio, was least known to me, but related as it is to English, it was easy enough. Giulia and Antonio coached Italian and Latin. The three men helped Giulia with her Russian. I coached French and Welsh. We all knew English. The Welsh was a tribute to me. All of my co-conspirators wanted to give it a try. It was difficult for them, but with a native speaker in their midst, our performance was very well received.
After our tour together, Giulia and Paul returned to San Francisco; Antonio, first, to Amsterdam, then to Berlin. We are all still in contact, each with her or his own life. Giulia, Paul, and Antonio are all in same-sex marriages. I remain the poet enamoured of all beauty, all sensuality, all passion and obsession.