Charlotte´s Eighty-Fifth Birthday Celebration

Charlotte´s eighty-fifth birthday party was an elegant, classy event; it was moving for all in attendance and of special significance to me and my family. It was an honor to be included in the eclectic group who gathered at the Walker’s. I love the use of the Greek word eclectic, which literally means the chosen, the select. In attendance were Rafa’s music professors as well as an associate dean—who speaks German and many of its dialects, including Charlotte’s--, the dean of the school—who is working on an English-Cherokee dictionary—, and even the university president. Also present was Jack Walker—no relation with Charlotte and Charles—who makes frequent trips to Germany, Washington D.C., Santa Fe and New York every year to watch opera. He attends more than 25 opera functions per year and has been to the famed Santa Fe Opera for more than twenty years in a row. Jack knows everything there is to know about the fascinating world of opera. The Walkers also invited several friends whom we have met on our opera trips to Houston with Charlotte and Charles, as well as some of their friends who hailed from California and DC.

Dr. Ricardo Romo serves as President of the University of Texas San Antonio. A native of San Antonio, he could pass for the typical northern Mexico gentleman: he is tall, wears a solid mustache, and sports an elegant, jovial, affable personality. He speaks perfect Spanish and has been known to sing Mexican ranchera songs at university receptions along with trios and mariachi groups.

Charles had asked me to take my accordion to the party “just in case.” Somehow, I found myself asking Ricardo if he would like to sing to Charlotte. I added that it would be an honor to serve as his “accordion-based” mariachi. He did a beautiful job on las Mañanitas (the Spanish Happy Birthday) and Volver, a beautiful mariachi song reserved for those with a gifted voice. He sang with unequaled, unremitting passion, from the bottom of his heart, and effortlessly hit a few high A’s. We were rewarded by a solid ovation and the most heartwarming smiles by all present. I must add that our performance was especially good given that our rehearsal time was no more than a mere five minutes, which barely gave us a chance to agree on details such as key and tempo.

President Romo is a gentleman. He knows Rafa well and introduces him simply as “Rafael” (no last name!) at University events. Before singing for Charlotte, he indicated that in Rafa’s absence, he was the natural choice for singing. This was followed by the most enthusiastic laughter. Ricardo’s success as a singer stems from his beautiful, authoritative and lucid tenor voice, his winning personality, unparalleled charisma, and captivating humility. He extended an invitation to me and Rafa to have dinner at his place and expressed an interest in singing Volver, Ella, Mexico Lindo y Querido, and El Rey as duets with Rafa. To my proud relief and undisguised satisfaction, he mentioned that my accordion would be welcome!

Two events in this unforgettable celebration were as extraordinarily moving as they were memorable. Firstly, Charles presented Charlotte with her birthday gift: a magnificent portrait of her by Gladys. The painting is a superior work of art. I wonder if calling it a masterpiece even does justice to it. This was a surprise present which moved Charlotte—and most in this cherished group of friends—to tears. I had seen the painting develop in Gladys’s studio and knew it was flawless, but I never anticipated the major emotional impact it would have on Charlotte and Charles. Charles told us about his plans to hang this painting upstairs, on top of the fireplace in the place of honor of the graceful, stylish, living room. I cannot wait to see the painting in place.

I have been remiss in that I have not mentioned that upon arriving at the Walker’s, I gave Charlotte a CD with a recording recently made by Rafa in Taos. Charlotte was deeply moved as she read the title—Dein ist mein ganzes Herz—the illustrious, sublime, exquisite aria by the immortal Austro-Hungarian master Franz Lehar. This work of genius is one of Charlotte’s favorites.

I must invite you to a brief interlude before I narrate the other moving episode of the evening. Dr. Dan Long, my friend and a distinguished opera scholar and eminent historian at St. Mary’s University brought up an almost unbelievable happenstance related to Franz Lehar. Dan indicated that the legendary author of The Merry Widow was born in the same town as the splendid, charismatic, gifted Sir Georg Solti, conductor par excellence, and the exceptional composer Bela Bartok. These astonishing giants were born around the same time, no more than just a few blocks from each other, in the town of Comarom, which is now in Slovakia.

Allow me to take you back to the celebration of Charlotte’s eighty-fifth. The food was of quality beyond belief. It featured a special kind of salmon which I had never tasted before, a delicate asparagus salad, exquisite chicken breasts, and particularly succulent ribs. It was not until everyone had had an opportunity to enjoy the terrific delicacies that Charlotte decided it was time to listen to Rafa’s rendition of Lehar’s prominent aria. Her call for attention was followed by immediate silence, as we were all eager to please our most gracious hostess. Charles turned his computer on and we enjoyed the enchanting initial chords of Yours is My Heart Alone aptly played at the piano. Charlotte cried with what appeared to be a blend of pride, joy, and other sublime, indescribable feelings—just like I did—when Rafa first intoned Prince Sou Chong’s undying words:

Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!

Wo du nicht bist, kann ich nicht sein.

So, wie die Blume welkt,

wenn sie nicht küsst der Sonnenschein!

Dein ist mein schönstes Lied,

weil es allein aus der Liebe erblüht.

Sag mir noch einmal, mein einzig Lieb,

oh sag noch einmal mir:

Ich hab dich lieb!

The soaring emotion in the room was palpable. It grew in intensity, passion, and ardor as Rafa finished the first part of the sublime chant and with unique mastery, conquered the musical bridge:

Wohin ich immer gehe,

ich fühle deine Nähe.

Ich möchte deinen Atem trinken

und betend dir zu Füssen sinken,

dir, dir allein! Wie wunderbar

ist dein leuchtendes Haar!

Traumschön und sehnsuchtsbang

ist dein strahlender Blick.

Hör ich der Stimme Klang,

ist es so wie Musik.

The heartfelt interlude precedes an awe-inspiring repetition of the main theme, this time with pronounced, manifest emotion and indomitable, resolute passion. I loved every one of Charlotte’s words when she—and the rest of us—recovered after Rafa and the inspired the piano player closed with that glorious final note. “I just wish Plácido Domingo could listen to this,” she said, “as he might learn something from Rafa,” she concluded. The solid round of applause that followed her kind words was meant for Rafa, rewarding his beautiful, earnest singing, but also for Charlotte. It seemed to reward her unabashed display of love for my son. Those hands were for you as well, Charlotte!

What a lovable occasion Charlotte’s eighty-fifth was! The Walkers are truly generous people, worthy successors of the great Gaius Cilnius Maecenas, famous patron of arts in ancient Rome. May God bless Charlotte and Charles abundantly!

Rafael Moras, Sr.