February 8, 2019

Sanford Sylvan: The Desire for Hermitage


I find myself waking with Barber's haunting song on a loop in my head, having learned that the eminent baritone Sanford Sylvan died suddenly this past week. That its taken me this long to write about it? Silence seemed the only answer until now. 

We were more colleagues than friends, having met in New York City Opera's 2006 production of Semele—Sandy singing the bass roles of Somus and King Cadmus. From then onwards, we would run into each other on the Lincoln Center campus and chat about singing, Sandy's own vocal lineage which touched upon García, matters operatic, and everything and nothing in particular. Our meetings became more frequent when Sandy joined the Juilliard faculty in 2013. Not forgotten is his profuse congratulations on the publication of my little book which came out the same year. Kind, supportive, and effusive with praise, our last meeting happened right before the holidays, Sandy complimenting my work with a young baritone. I cannot think of a more generous colleague.

We had another connection beside music which vibrated in the air during our meetings, both of us gay and having lived through the horrible years of the AIDS crisis. Members of a club with no name, our survival could, at times, feel like an obligation to make a difference. Sandy certainly did, singing in the first performance of the AIDS Quilt Songbook in 1992. Curiously, no obituary I have read mentions his sexuality, which mystifies me since Sandy was quite open about his, even appearing in the Advocate.

What is not a mystery is Sandy's teaching, which drew on age old concepts and began with his insistence on clear diction, which is evident in all of his recordings.

I will miss running into Sandy, miss our shop talk, and his beautiful, luminous, radiant soul.

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