Jerome Hines: : Obituary

Jerome Hines, basso, died on February 4, 2003 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City after complications from a hiatal hernia and a ruptured abscess. He was 81 years old. Known as one of the great basses of the century, he held the record for the longest solo career at the Metropolitan Opera—41 years. He also held the Met record for performances of several roles including Sarastro in Zauberflote—55 performances, and Ramfis in Aida—104 performances. He had a huge repertory of over 80 roles and was known in particular for the title roles in Boris Goudonov and Don Giovanni as well as “Mephistopheles” in Faust, Colline in La Boheme, Basilio in Barbiere di Siviglia, Gremin in Yevgeny Onegin, and a number of Wagner roles including Wotan, King Marke and Gurnemanz.

He was born November 8, 1921 in Hollywood, CA and began studying chemistry, physics, and mathematics at UCLA. He also began studying voice with Gennaro Curci which then led to a performance in H.M.S. Pinafore. He was working for Union Oil at the time as a chemist. He came to the powerful attention of Sol Hurok who advised him to change the original spelling of his last name from Heinz to the less German-sounding Hines to avoid a possible anti-German sentiment during these war years. He debuted at the San Francisco Opera in 1941 as Monterone in Rigoletto and in 1946 made his Met debut as the Officer in Boris Goudonov.

His career took him to all the major theaters of the world including LaScala, the Bolshoi, and Bayreuth. He worked with Arturo Toscanini and recorded Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis with him though his discography is sparse in relation to his extended career, but includes touchstone performances of Handel’s Messiah and Verdi’s Macbeth.

Hines wrote in 1956 the opera I Am the Way , based on the life of Jesus Christ. The opera has seen 93 productions since then including performances at the Met and Bolshoi. The author helped Hines to obtain a performance at the Vatican in April of this year and I conducted this performance dedicated to his memory.

Hines was well known for his charity work and would go every Christmas Eve to the Bowery in New York to serve at a soup kitchen. He became a devout Christian early in his career and has written books on the subject. Though never a proselytizer he was always eager to discuss his faith with anyone.

He is the author of a number of scholarly papers on physics and mathematics and is the author of the books This Is My Story, This Is My Song (1968), Great Singers on Great Singing (1982), and The Four Voices of Man (1997).

He met the fiery Genovese soprano, Lucia Evangelista in 1951 while at the Met and they were married a year later. He nicknamed her “My Little Vesuvius” and the reason they stayed happily married, as he told The Star-Ledger’s Willa Conrad, was “She’s all right-brain, and I’m all left-brain.” Hines nursed Evangelista through a four-year bout with Lou Gehrig’s Disease until her death in 2000. He is survived by four sons—David, Andrew, John, and Russell.

At six foot six Hines was an imposing man in every sense of the word. With his low powerful speaking voice and his height, not to mention his powerful spirituality, he was greatly effective in bringing people to his ideas. He was a major force for the arts in New Jersey where he resided most of his career. He was instrumental in the early stages of the New Jersey State Arts Council and helped to put the New Jersey State Opera on the map. In 1987 he founded Opera Music Theatre International (OMTI) in Newark to help young singers bridge the gap from conservatory to career. He was always quick to tell anyone how many singers he and OMTI had launched to the Met—at last count 12—including Mark Delavan, Adrienne Dugger, and Kim Josephson. OMTI became defunct in the late 90’s and Hines started a new program along similar lines which he named OperaLink. Their excellent soloist recently sang the Verdi Requiem under my baton, which in fact became a memorial for Hines as it came three days after his death.

Not only his height, but in the larger-than-life world of opera, Hines stood out from force of personality. Many musicians have stories to tell of his kindness, his artistry, or some other ultra-human characteristic. In the early sixties Hines was the first American to be invited to sing Boris at the Bolshoi, the premier Russian role at the premier Russian theater. While there the Cuban missile crisis erupted. As American ships blockaded Russian vessels from delivering warheads, diplomatic relations broke off between the nations. JFK was calling Khrushchev’s bluff. At Hines’ last performance it was announced that Khrushchev would attend and panic ensued. Would this American become the scapegoat for the entire country? After the performance Khrushchev came backstage to congratulate Hines. As he tells in his book This Is My Story, This Is My Song, Khrushchev proposed a toast to “peace and friendship between our countries.” When he returned to New York he was flooded with journalists asking “What did Khrushchev say?” So an American opera singer became the ambassador of the free world and in his small part helped to avert World War III. That was Jerome Hines.

Italo Marchini

Italo Marchini is the assistant conductor for Eve Queler at Opera Orchestra of New York and founder of Coro Lirico. He can be reached at ikmarchini@aol.com.