The last time I saw Salvatore, he was all smiles! He had just brought the house down in that Deutsche Oper Tosca. I came to his dressing room after the show with a couple of mutual friends. I embraced him and said: “You sound so different!” He said: “I was in bed for the last couple of weeks with a back problem…” as if to apologize for how he sang. I replied: “I mean you sounded magnificent! You’ve always been good, but tonight you were absolutely amazing!” He said: “Really?” then he smiled his disarming boyish smile: “…it did feel really good tonight!”
One has to be careful how you compliment a tenor. Just tell him he was wonderful so he does not get the impression you mean something else. That night, in his acting, so subtle, in his singing, so powerful and flexible, in his enjoyment of the curtain calls, I saw a happy boy at play! And so it is with great tenors in particular. After our short conversation, he left with his manager and some other official-looking types more than likely to agree on engagements for the coming decade or more. After that performance, I believe every impresario within earshot of that Tosca performance would have wanted Salvo for every performance he could sign to. There was no reason to expect we would freakishly lose him in such an unexpected, ridiculous way! As he left, he said with that playful smile: “let’s get together tomorrow!”
Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity! He had stuff to do and so did I. We did not communicate, assuming we would have caught up soon enough! We had many close friends in common and several of my students had sung with him and would have again.
Of this terrifically friendly tenor, with whom I shared a fun-filled, simple dinner at Island Burger, in New York, I have little to say because I am shell-shocked at his passing. When I found out about the accident, I felt awful but hopeful. I kept thinking: “that is not the way a great tenor dies!” I was positive he would recover. It was not to be! The most philosophical me can come up with many reasons why this had to be thus. One of my favorite Shakespeare settings by Gerald Finzi says it best: