Dream and Nightmare – Un’uccisione simulata

Scarpia: Ho mutato d’avviso… Il prigionier sia fucilato.
(Tosca scatta atterrita)
(fissa con intenzione Spoletta che accenna replicatamente col capo di indovinare il pensiero di Scarpia)
Come facemmo col Conte Palmieri…
Spoletta: Un’uccisione…
Scarpia: … simulata!… Come avvenne del Palmieri! Hai ben compreso?

Vasile Moldoveanu is a Romanian tenor, born in Constanța, in 1935. He had a good voice and, at first, he was a choir member of the opera in his native town, without having musical training. It was a moment, the ’50s, when tenors were scarce. He was discovered by Constantin Daminescu, the manager of the Opera in Constanța. Gheorghe Velea, the chorus master, understood that the young tenor could do even more and sent him to Bucharest, to the Music Conservatory. Vasile Moldoveanu`s closest canto professor was the tenor Dinu Bădescu.

At the National Opera in Bucharest, the tenor’s career was that of a classical beginner. First of all, Mozart (Don Ottavio) and comprimari in operas by Verdi or Puccini. In a live recording from 1967, we find him in the very small part of Count Lerna in Don Carlo. The stars of the moment were Cornel Stavru and Nicolae Herlea or Elena Cernei. Ileana Cotrubaș, also at the beginning of her career, was playing Tebaldo. Small parts, Gastone in Virginia Zeani`s La traviata by Electrecord, Remendado in the recording, from Electrecord, too, of Elena Cernei’s Carmen, or Le messager philistin on the 1969 LP of Ludovic Spiess and Elena Cernei’s  Samson et Dalila. The time had not come yet for more than this. In that Romania, of the hazard introduced by ideology in the art, the time might have never come, especially if you were not a member of the party. Nevertheless, it was enough for Moldoveanu to be noticed by foreign agents who were coming to Romania which, at that moment, was timidly and briefly opened towards the Occident. Eventually, he was invited for auditions abroad. Vasile Moldoveanu was not famous yet, but his talent promised quick recognition.

In Bucharest, the authorities gave him a small house, in a slum, without sewage and with the toilet at the back of the garden. In order to receive better housing, one was supposed to be a member of the party. This is why everything was becoming more and more difficult, even impossible. Getting a visa for an audition or a concert abroad was quickly becoming a fight with the bureaucracy, a real Sysyph`s mountain to climb. Of course, nobody could get a visa easily, but at least for party members, the chances could be calculated and speculated by connections or by written requests.

In 1972, Vasile Moldoveanu receives two invitations, for auditions in Germany, from two agents: Victor Vladarsky and Robert Schultz. He obtains the visa, not without difficulties; he had received the invitations one month after their arrival, by accident, as neither the National Opera of Bucharest nor ARIA (the state Romanian agency in charge with the artists` planned management at that time) had told him about them. The auditions were successful and the tenor does not return to Romania any more. He had already taken the decision before leaving, once he had realized that he would have had to fight all his life for some rights that, in no matter what democratic state, would have not involved arguments with authorities. Robert Schultz arranges his first contract, at the State Opera in Regensburg – he will be Manrico, the destiny already smiles bitterly upon him, he is going to be a Troubadour from the very beginning…

Until 1979, he sang mostly in Germany and in Austria, an important place being Stuttgart – here, the manager of the opera was the former famous Wagnerian tenor Wolfgang Windgassen, who wanted to introduce an Italian repertoire in his programming. A chance for Moldoveanu, who had been trained in Romania mostly in the Italian tradition. The next step – an important career at the Metropolitan Opera, for 11 seasons. The tenor from Constanța will sing will sing on the stage in New York for 105 times, more than any other lyric artist until now. Only Stella Roman, in the ‘40s, sang more than him – 135 times.

In Romania, the authorities start the repression against his family and try to get him back to Romania, in order to have him punished. Even though the times of Gheorghiu Dej had ended, the reflexes of the Secret Police were intact. Until today, the only documents available are those from the legal proceedings started against Vasile Moldoveanu, even though there is a pretty high chance for other records to exist (for instance, for informative pursuit). Here starts the instrumentation of a trial that was supposed to condemn the artist.

The first impulse of the authorities was to charge him for country betrayal. The verdict for such deeds could easily get to the capital punishment. Even undocumented, such a sentence was plausible, because both the artist and his family were informed about this legal decision. Such a sentence was generally reserved for diplomats, secret service officers, persons who represented the Romanian state abroad and defected. At that time, the charge of country betrayal could be issued only by a Military Court. It is interesting to notice this “banality of evil”, as Hannah Arendt named it, this policy invented by the Nazis, of repressive terror by the use of bureaucracy, a policy that the communists copied later. A legal instrument that allowed for the later statements of the guilty ones, from Goering and Eichmann and up to “our” Vișinescu, according to which the torturers saw themselves only as wheels of the system, exempt of all guilt.

The Romanian state saw everything through the lens of its obsessions regarding absolute control: control of population, control of information, up to, if possible, the control of every individual’s life.

If the time’s propaganda abounded in quotes from Nicolae Ceaușescu’s speeches about the progress of the country toward communism, the chief of state’s point of view regarding people’s freedom to build a career was very clear:

Also, taking into account the fact that, on an international level, there still are reactionary forces, hostile to socialism, and that, in socialist countries, there still are lumpen, decomposed elements, who, for a handful of silver, are ready to betray their country, it is necessary to ensure the continuous reinforcement of the state’s defense bodies, and to keep awake the vigilance of the people working in the secret police.” (Message addressed by Nicolae Ceauşescu to the staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on the occasion of 20 years’ celebration since the creation of the secret police – 30 August 1968 (Nicolae Ceauşescu, Socialist Legalism – strong factor of social dynamism, Political Publishing House, Bucharest, 1989, pp. 96-97))

Dreaming meant you had become a “lumpen, decomposed element” and that you betrayed your country for a handful of silver, what a blessing you had the secret police that was always vigilant. Interesting this phrase, with biblical allusion, ‘for a handful of silver”, from the mouth of a declared dialectical materialist atheist…

In Germany, Moldoveanu finds out, from a friend, that an officer of the secret police known in the world of opera artists, had declared that, if he met the tenor, he would kill him himself. In Romania, all his goods are confiscated by the state. Despite the sequester on his real properties, his family manages to sell his apartment, but the money are blocked by the court. “The minutes of the sequester” are signed by the lieutenant colonel (at that time) Iosif Bistran. An agent of the secret police “specialized” in intellectuals, if we mention that he was the investigator for Ecaterina Bălăcioiu-Lovinescu (wife to Eugen Lovinescu and mother to Monica Lovinescu) arrested at the age of 71 and who did not survive imprisonment; a horrible memory for Paul Goma, too – the same Bistran signed the “beginning of criminal investigation” for him, in 1977. When signing the above-mentioned minutes, on September 24th, 1974, Bistran was becoming an “intellectual” himself, as he was graduating a post-university course in „International Commercial Law”, at the Academy of Economic Studies, with the best grades possible…

In 1976, while in München, the tenor receives a newspaper from Romania, sent by his father. An article mentioned Moldoveanu as a country betrayer and said that the punishment he deserved was death. The article also stated that the trial, judged in absence, changed the punishment and granted him pardon. The announcement said nothing about the fact that the punishment had been reduced to 5 years of imprisonment and that Moldoveanu was being followed by the secret police. Un’uccisione simulata. Exactly the same. No difference at all. At the same time, ”the betrayer” was rehearsing the part of the Duke of Mantua for a Rigoletto directed by Roman Polansky. The German newspapers were writing about “the revelation of this Romanian tenor”, the Romanian papers about “Moldoveanu, the traitor”…

The criminal file makes a Kafka-like case. According to the documents, ARIA and the National Opera pretend that the artist, who had left for an audition, was in fact on an important mission and he was representing the Romanian state abroad. A simple audition became a propaganda objective. Therefore, the most distorted accusations could be formulated starting from word games built over terms such as: “country”, “mission”, “betrayal”, big words!

Vasile Moldoveanu - Duca di Mantova directed by Roman Polanski (Munchen, 1976)
Vasile Moldoveanu – Duca di Mantova directed by Roman Polanski (Munchen, 1976)

Easy to imagine the situation in the mid-‘80s. It was impossible for him to return to Romania, he would have been arrested on the spot. On the other hand, Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime seemed not only indestructible, not only with an appearance of eternity, but it was more and more oppressive and compelling. It was difficult to bear the idea that, most probably, you would never ever see your family, your relatives, your friends from Romania again. An emigrant shared many of the dramas of a stateless person. Never at home in a foreign country, never able to return home in your own country. You consider yourself Romanian, even though your own country repudiates you, and threatens to put you in jail if you return. You can be nothing else but a citizen of the world and this is where the condition of artist does you a favor: you will be the citizen of the lyrical planet. A status that you have been dreaming of for a long time, but a status that you will never ever relate to the places of your memories, to your childhood, to nothing. A dream transformed quickly, even before becoming reality, in a nightmare.

Moldoveanu had nothing left except his career. The Metropolitan Opera had started, since 1977, to broadcast live, on TV, a few performances every season. On the radio, they had already been doing this since before the World War II. So, in an era when there were 4 annual telecasts, Moldoveanu had three (1980, 1981, 1984). Romania considered him a traitor, so the censorship was present by default. I don’t think anyone in Romania saw those broadcasts live.

Unfortunately, the Revolution of 1989 did not change the things drastically. According to common sense, all the accusations should have been withdrawn automatically. But this was not the case: the tenor Vasile Moldoveanu was still followed and condemned to prison, in absence. Un’uccisione simulata. He will have to make an appeal and ask for his case to be judged again. He will be discharged only in 2010. Un’uccisione simulata. The Romanian tenor can return to his own country only now. After having been followed, condemned, censored and, last but not least and maybe the most painful of all, forgotten.

In 1994, Plácido Domingo gives a concert in Bucharest – he was at the height of his international fame. At the end of the concert in Sala Palatului, the Spanish tenor reads a long list of Romanian artists with whom he has collaborated or that he has met during his career. The audience is flattered by the list of names more famous in Romania than abroad. They applause after the most known ones. At a certain moment, Plácido says “Vasile Moldoveanu”, and some persons in the audience who have listened carefully to the list are puzzled: “Who is this Vasile Moldoveanu?”. Today, the answer is easier, but in 1994 we had nothing else but puzzled looks and shrugging shoulders.

Vasile Moldoveanu has been a tenor who filled, at the Metropolitan Opera, a part of the void made by Franco Corelli’s departure. He was not the only one, Domingo and Pavarotti were Corelli’s successors, but the Romanian tenor was a part of that world and shared performances with them. Don Carlo with Domingo, Tosca or La bohème with Pavarotti, consistently, season after season. The audience admired his impetuous voice of lyrico spinto tenor, and his physical beauty, with an intense look – le grand ténébreux – was mentioned in the newspapers and made him the perfect choice for the parts he was playing. And this was not little.

Vasile Moldoveanu la Metropolitan Opera (1980) - Don Carlo de Giuseppe Verdi
Vasile Moldoveanu at The Metropolitan Opera (1980) – Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi

The three telecasts were released on DVD only after 2008, at first Simon Boccanegra (1984) and then, at the end of 2011, Don Carlo (1980) and Il tabarro (1981). Vasile Moldoveanu’s video inheritance is now available and, with very small steps, he is rediscovered in Romania too. Now, a little late. Only one regret, that his favorite part, des Grieux (from Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini), has never been officially immortalized on video. Still, there is a recording of an audio broadcast from the  Metropolitan (out of 7 radio broadcasts), from 1985, which deserves attentive listening.

Vasile Moldoveanu got his Romania back only in 2010. It is never too late for justice to be made, even though it is painfully late. Maybe, at the beginning of the ’90s, we could have still listened to him singing on a Romanian stage …

The information in this article comes from a book written by Mrs Ioana Diaconescu: Vasile Moldoveanu – Un tenor român pe patru continente: Pasiune și credință, București, 2011, Editura Muzicală.
An interview with Vasile Moldoveanu, from 2012: The Opera is the Mirror of a Country.
Another interview from 1982 with Bruce Duffie: Conversation Piece: Tenor Vasile Moldoveanu

Some videos:

Don Carlo: Dio, che nell’alma infondere

Don Carlo: Fontainebleau!

Il Tabarro: Hai ben raggione

Il Tabarro: Folle di gelosia

Simon Boccanegra: Sento avvampar

Simon Boccanegra: Vieni a mirar

Simon Boccanegra: Tu qui? Amelia!

Un comentariu

  1. Un imens artist Roman , despre care prea putini din tara noastra stiu ca a fost cel mai reprezentativ cantaret al natiei noastre la Metropolitan Opera New York, pentru o perioada continua si indelungata, si probabil neegalata inca, de alt conational!
    Charles Riecker, fostul meu mentor si administrator artistic al Met-ului (timp de 28 de ani), mi-a impartasit cu multa admiatie pentru consistenta vocala si artistica a Maestrului Moldoveanu, informatiile. Felicitari Maestre pentru munca asidua ce ati depus-o pe altarul liricii mondiale! Speram sa va vedem la Bucuresti cu orice ocazie!


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