from Steven Blier:
The first professional singer I ever accompanied was English soprano Valerie Masterson. I met her through Matthew Epstein, who went to high school with me. Even at age 17 Matthew was the master of going backstage, honing his skills during the D’Oyly Carte company’s periodic visits to New York. That was how he’d ingratiated himself with Valerie, who agreed to go out to dinner with him and his 13-year old friend, a tiny, shy boy named Steve (me). After sandwiches at the Tip Toe Inn on 86th and Broadway, she and her husband went back to Matthew’s house where she sang all kinds of stuff—the contralto numbers from G&S, Patience’s entrance song “I Cannot Tell What This Love May Be,” and “Una voce poco fa” in German. Yes, there is a tape of this somewhere. No, I don’t have it. Valerie’s voice—so pure and soaring, so huge to my bar mitzvah-age ears, so elegant, so ENGLISH—was the Scent of Blood. Already hooked on opera and mad for Gilbert and Sullivan, I found my calling as a collaborative pianist when she opened her mouth to sing at Matthew’s place on 81st Street. Here she is performing Yum-Yum’s Act II song from The Mikado. It’s a rare bit of footage, not the 1966 movie but an even better 1973 rendition for television. She still brings tears to my eyes.
Valerie went on to sing opera all over the world, of course, and is now a voice teacher. Matthew has enjoyed one of the most illustrious careers in opera as manager, producer, and consultant. And me? Well….